Diversity is key in conquering the cyber challenge
“One of the biggest myths about cyber security is that most people working in it are men, wearing hoodies, sitting in a dark room not talking to anyone. This couldn't be further from the truth.” – Lynwen Connick
As recently as three years ago it was not unusual for me to be the only woman in the room during a cyber security conversation. In 2019 only 11 per cent of the global cyber workforce was female. But things are changing.
Female participation rose to 25 per cent in 2021 across the world. At ANZ 30 per cent of roles within the cyber security team are now occupied by women.
However, across Australia the statistics are not as positive. The Australian Government STEM Equity Report found an increase of just 2 per cent for women enrolled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects - including cyber security - over the 10-year period from 2009 to 2020. From just 11 per cent to 13 per cent.
Clearly there’s more to do to get women interested in cyber security and there are many opportunities to do just that - starting with changing perceptions about what it looks like to work in the field.
One of the biggest myths about cyber security is that most people working in the field are men, wearing hoodies, sitting in a dark room, not talking to anyone. This couldn't be further from the truth.
Increasingly, cyber professionals come from diverse backgrounds with varied skills and experience. A recent survey of 300 women employed in cyber security found only about half had a background in IT or computer science. So for women thinking they might not have the right credentials, they should think again.
Benefits of diversity
One way to boost the cyber security workforce is to encourage more women into the field. As in any other industry, we need more diversity because the greater the diversity in any team or organisation, the more success it is likely to have.
The benefits diversity can bring include greater revenue, better problem-solving, positive social responsibility metrics and increased innovation. The Australian workplace is missing out on these benefits if we do not have gender parity.
Ultimately, without women pursuing careers in cyber security the industry is not leveraging almost half of the population’s talent pool at a time when cybercrime is one of our greatest threats.
At ANZ we are working hard to achieve parity and there are three key aspects to helping achieve it. First is education programs to encourage the next generation.
There are many great programs with government and corporate support, including Cyber STEPs, which is a great way for students to discover how cool cyber is.
The Cyber STEPs program
The Cyber STEPs team brings curriculum and teaching expertise to help address the complex needs of these sectors. It is designed to bridge the gap between basic and advanced cyber security skills, focusing on analysing scams and phishing attacks, digital forensics and cyber investigations.
The program helps to deliver classroom activities and teacher professional development that support the implementation of the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies.
Cyber STEPs includes free interactive teaching resources, immediate intelligent feedback, automated marking and professional development for teachers.
The program is the largest cross-industry collaboration of its kind between the Federal Government, the cyber security sector, major banks (ANZ, CBA, NAB, Westpac), technology companies including Amazon Web Services and BT and the Grok Academy.
Second is to have more female role models in senior positions. This is crucial and I have been pleased in recent years to see more women around the cyber security table.
There are more and more women leading the way in a variety of roles at companies like Facebook, Apple, YouTube, Airbnb and across business and government. They will become role models for the next generation of women to follow technology-based education paths.
And thirdly we need to understand the need for diverse entry paths to the profession. The reality is the entry point for women entering cyber security is as diverse as employers are willing to imagine.
We have female members of our team who joined cyber security from the worlds of marketing and communications, entrepreneurship and fashion.
At ANZ we are always trying to create new programs which tap into the skills of people from different backgrounds and talent pools. They can allow people to brush up on technical skills to set them up for success in their cyber and technology careers.
Our “Return to Work Program” has been an important element of our diversity strategy. We recognised encouraging women into the workforce or back into the workforce would be aided by education, career support and flexible working opportunities, including part time and job share roles.
The introduction of the program saw a significant influx of women into security roles and new mentoring programs have also expanded the support network available to women.
But it’s not only about gender, we also need to bring in people from other fields like psychology, media, business and academia. People come from all different walks of life and that diversity is crucial because it provides real diversity of thought.
Variety in careers
People with different training and different experiences can bring varied skills into cyber security. Cyber security is part of everything we do and so it helps to have diversity of thought represented.
For individuals there are so many different types of careers you can have in cyber security. You can start off being highly specialised and move on to doing something quite different.
Even if you're not sure what you want to do longer-term, having an understanding of technology and cyber security will set you up for whatever you want to do - although I suspect most people who do give it a go won’t want to leave once they’ve seen what it’s all about. But even if they do leave, it will set them up well for any career and life in general as cyber security is also a life skill everyone should have.
My first job in cyber security was wonderful. I had to be prised out of it. I just had so much fun. I couldn't believe how exciting and interesting it was. Today cyber is becoming even more important and increasingly interesting. It is changing all the time and it’s not going away any time soon.
Lynwen Connick is Chief Information Security Officer at ANZ
Locking down cyber threats