Empowering the new team of trailblazers in cybersecurity

Issue 6 2023 News & Events, Information Security, Training & Education

In the rapidly expanding field of cybersecurity, two major challenges loom large; a staggering talent gap and persistent gender inequality. According to the recently released 2022 (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, the industry faces an alarming shortage of 3,4 million skilled professionals.

To compound matters, women currently represent a mere 24% of the global cybersecurity workforce. In South Africa, the representation of women in cybersecurity is even lower, standing at 9% in 2021. While these numbers may seem disheartening, they signify a significant improvement from the paltry 11% global representation reported in 2017. Amidst the challenges, a glimmer of hope emerges, demonstrating that progress is possible.

Overcoming career challenges in cybersecurity

To foster a successful career in cybersecurity, women are fearlessly confronting the industry’s significant challenges. “One thing that I have learned is that continued learning is essential. It’s important to be open to learning from everyone around you because there is always someone who can teach you something,” says Maria Jose Albarran, Channel Account Director at Fortinet.

Sandra Tamer, a dedicated System Engineer at Fortinet, echoes these sentiments and emphasises the immense benefits of conversations, particularly among women, for personal and organisational growth. She believes that by sharing stories of successes and failures, women working in cybersecurity can uplift and support one another. “Let’s change the culture and help more women thrive rather than just survive. It is time to take our place at the top.”

Tamer’s passion for cybersecurity began when she completed her master’s degree in telecom engineering over five years ago. Since joining Fortinet at the beginning of 2023, she has been committed to becoming a cybersecurity expert. Tamer encourages other women and young girls to embark on a similar path, highlighting the rapid growth and immense importance of the engineering sector. “There are plenty of great opportunities for women to join this exciting area. You can make a difference in the world, so don’t hesitate to start such an amazing journey.”

Myths and truths of the cyber sector

A survey conducted by the World Economic Forum on women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and cybersecurity revealed interesting insights that shed light on both the truths and myths surrounding cybersecurity careers. One observation that holds true is the importance of engaging in STEM from an early age. Unfortunately, in countries like South Africa, not everyone has equal access to quality education, particularly in STEM subjects. According to a 2022 government report, only 13% of local graduates in STEM fields are women.

Luckily, having the support of role models or mentors can make a significant difference. Girls can take part in initiatives led by NGOs or businesses, like TechnoGirl or Girls4Tech, as well as bootcamps or skills programmes, to get additional support.

A common misconception is that women are unaware of cybersecurity as a viable career option. Surprisingly, the survey results showed that while the majority of women were aware of cybersecurity careers, many had never been exposed to the field or simply had not considered it as a potential path.

Unfortunately, due to distorted perceptions of the industry, women may also be discouraged from pursuing a cybersecurity career. This is compounded by various barriers, including unequal access to job opportunities and limited options for non-technical entrants. It is also often seen as a male-dominated boys’ club, further exacerbating the challenges faced by women in the field.

However, many businesses are working to change the status quo. A 2023 Global Cybersecurity Skills Gap Report found that 73% of businesses are now implementing recruiting initiatives aimed at women. Fortinet is also committed to creating more opportunities for women in cybersecurity in South Africa. It actively fosters a culture of inclusion by expanding access to training and career advancement through its training institute.

“Being able to have an active role in helping people and organisations protect themselves and improve their security posture from cyber risks is very rewarding. With cybersecurity, the learning never stops, which keeps me engaged and challenged. And it presents massive opportunities with various career pathways and growth opportunities,” Tamer adds.

Next steps for bridging the gender gap

To bridge the gender gap in cybersecurity, there are three key steps that companies can take. Firstly, creating training and upskilling opportunities specifically designed to advance women in the field is crucial.

“Training is important in any industry, but it is especially important in cybersecurity considering that technology is always changing. When it comes to supporting women, I believe that the encouragement, support, and empowerment of other women is the greatest help in ensuring the retainment of women in cyber,” says Albarran.

Secondly, providing internships not only for recent graduates, but also for individuals looking to transition into a cybersecurity career can be immensely beneficial.

Lastly, mentorship programs play a vital role in fostering the growth and development of women in cybersecurity. Pairing newcomers with experienced women in the field creates a supportive environment for learning, guidance, and networking.

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