Sally Cooper, Operations Director at Ramsac has spent over 30 years in a male-dominated industry, here she offers more insights on creating a workplace of diversity and inclusion – one that encompasses disabilities, race and neurodiversity.
High profile breaches often eclipse other issues in cybersecurity, including the problematic lack of equality and diversity in tech, IT and cybersecurity. Businesses only really listen to cybersecurity when it’s a cautionary tale told through headlines in the press. In January, for example, the breach in Microsoft’s Exchange Server captured an anxiety associated with these costly and highly public events, which has the power to challenge the reputation of a company.
Professionally, the industry suffers from a puzzling shortage of diversity in terms of talent and opportunity, where there is a lack of women and other marginalised identities. This pattern, a kind of diversity lag, is just as systemic and problematic as the absence of minorities in STEM subjects. Cybersecurity is emerging as a critical industry, both economically and out of a necessity to minimise escalating risk varieties. Facing new demand and greater urgency, the diversity dilemma is no longer ignorable as the industry struggles to hire enough talent to fill its ranks.
Why don’t we always see the problem?
Studies regarding IT professionals and recruitment trends demonstrate how diversity is a greater problem than it appears. In fact, lack of diversity can explain why there is a growing shortage of talent entering IT and tech. According to the most recent (ISC)² Cybersecurity report, women are being recruited into the industry at a higher rate. Yet, despite this growth, a mere 33% of cybersecurity professionals are women. Not isolated, another project uncovered how just 13% of Fortune 500 companies have recruited woman in cybersecurity roles, including leadership or management positions.
As data studies reveal, the real problem is where perceptions and reality aren’t aligning. In the past five years, there has been a contested view that more women have joined tech, IT and similar industries. Worldwide, 51% of respondents believed that more women have entered the industry; comparatively, those European respondents who were polled perceived a slightly lower increase, imagining that number at 44%. These perceptions have been largely generous. Unfortunately, roles occupied by women in cybersecurity have remained between only 25-33% in the past three years.
Troubled by talent shortages, fields with technical roles like those in tech and IT would only benefit from more women and minorities. When diversified, workplace cultures and other spaces can truly thrive, because there is a greater balance of ideas, people, and cultures.
What are the obstacles?
Perceptions are often stubborn and create difficult barriers to move. Whilst there are more women being recruited into cybersecurity, the outcomes of enrolment programmes are still struggling to look and feel diversified. Amongst younger professionals, perceptions of the industry are not often reductive, and cybersecurity is imagined as little more than password protections and other basic errands. Reporting on its troubled reputation, where misconceptions about the field are deterring young talent, one report studied gaps in the tech workforce to find that there’s a problem with perception. Overall, there is a healthy attitude toward cybersecurity. Yet, according to this report, many young professionals struggle to identify how their careers could fit into the field. When these misconceptions are challenged, however, the industry can aspire to recruit and diversify its talent more productively.
Addressing stereotypes about the cybersecurity profession is the first step. The greater challenge lies in spreading enough opportunity to different groups of people interested in seeing tech and IT fields a viable career path. Diversifying a talent pool is no small feat, but with a concentrated effort to attract a balance of genders and cultures, the field can thrive from new ideas and people.
Reinforced by themes of inclusion and the equality of opportunity, diversity can represent a healthier attitude toward building cultures from the inside – one where transparency and learning are encouraged, pushing the horizons with new ideas, people, and cultures. Many workplaces unite under a common pursuit of excellence. But how far are they willing to go to achieve it? Would they invite their culture to test new people and bolder ideas? And would they knock down stereotypes in favour of building lifelong careers?
Addressing the diversity lag in tech goes way beyond challenging stereotypes. It’s about encouraging young professionals to apply their passions, energy, and skills in an exacting and technical field of study. There’s even a competitive advantage to those employers willing to consider how different groups of people could help promote the level of innovation the industry requires to stay ahead of risk varieties.
Diversity is an open call to more marginal identities, from encouraging more women to enter male-dominated industries like tech, to carving a safe space for those with disabilities. With a reputation for being highly technical, this field would benefit from greater neurodiversity as recruitment can be casted wider to attract interest from more analytically minded applicants, including those with autism. There are even some who visualise diversity not as an end-goal, but as an opportunity to re-energise workplaces and their cultures where innovation is slowing down. Recruitment might just be the ideal platform for onboarding fresher and younger talent, where we desire more diverse thinking.
Diversity is often treated as an objective. But what if it represented something greater?
Diversity is, at least, the responsibility of a business that desires to see its industry thrive in the near future. Involved in the operations at ramsac, an IT provider where we deliver cybersecurity solutions regularly to our clients, I share this belief and see favourable change as a helpful tactic in refocusing our cultures to become more inclusive. We know having more diversity within roles results in a stronger and more effective team and we are committed to positive change, encouraging women both internally to consider a role in our cybersecurity team and looking to recruit more diverse new hires to our organisation. Breaking down unconscious bias is key for us to create a fair and equal workplace.
When a business wants to diversify its recruitment pipeline, it has to look hard for any blockages. Unconscious bias, for example, is an invisible challenge that will hinder how well you recruit differently and fulfil different roles. Businesses should consider how they can achieve diversity through recruitment, by making positive decisions about their talent. This might, for example, mean using data or insights about your whole workforce to make decisions about its future recruitment needs. You might even be able to identify the better applicants based on your data.
Smaller actions internally can be helpful when trying to encourage a more diversified talent offering. This could include more neutral language used in applications, or interviews conducted by a panel, or an assessment based on a blind test. These methods will expand how you recruit and think of the best applicant to fulfil a role. There’s no universal solution; instead, a balance of different methods can help remove all kinds of barriers.
It starts with people
Diversity should be a high priority not only for enhancing a culture, but for gaining benefits from a greater scope of different people and ideas. This difference is often what sets a business apart and helps it channel innovation into its work. But if diversifying means opening your recruitment to all kinds of peoples, including race, disabilities and pushing for neurodiversity.
Diversity touches on problem solving and teamwork, helping to leverage the differences in your team for a positive impact, outgrowing its perception as a barrier. When working collaboratively, new attitudes and ideas can truly flourish. Diversity is a facilitator of meaningful change and the outcomes can update a workforce with the kinds of compelling ideas and attitudes it may have been missing. This is key to business success: where talent, a true balance of genders, abilities, backgrounds and race, can unlock fresh understandings for an industry faced with a problem. As threats change and become more sophisticated in cybersecurity, the urgency for innovation reaches a new demand. The answer all along might just be in the talent you haven’t yet hired.
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