Finding Balance Beyond International Women’s Day

We’re unbalanced. No matter the calls for reform, the mandated board quotas, the equity policies and protests, the #MeToo movement, the record numbers of women seeking office and banging against (sometimes shattering) glass ceilings, and the progress that’s been made, it is still a man’s world.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 (IWD) was #BalanceForBetter because “a balanced world is a better world.” The gender imbalance is especially apparent in the domain that will most influence the new economy, that of technology. 

IWD has come and gone for 2019, but the spirit of the day, what it represents, needs to be part of our conversations, thoughts, and actions every day.

It’s easy to get swept up in the media hoopla of March 8th, celebrating how far women have come and recognizing where we still need to make progress. What’s more challenging is being an agent of change, turning those conversations and that recognition into action. It’s easy to get lulled into thinking, “we’ve made some progress; that’s good enough.” However, as Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook says, “We need to resist the tyranny of low expectations. We need to open our eyes to the inequality that remains. We won’t unlock the full potential of the workplace until we see how far from equality we really are.”

The future thinks like a man

From facial and vocal recognition to self-driving cars to security solutions, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are shaping the future, and those that stand behind those technologies are mostly men. The digital economy will be centred on technology that alters the line between human and machine, smart-technologies that can learn from humans, adapt and interact in real time. If we shape our future, in this case, a future built around AI and ML technologies, then where are the women?

According to WIRED and Element AI, there are only 12% of female ML researchers in the field. The 2018 Global Gender Gap Report shows that there are already gender gaps emerging in the area of Artificial Intelligence.

A collaborative study between LinkedIn and the World Economic Forum (WEF) shows that only 22% of global AI professionals are women. This rift also flags other weaknesses in the economic fabric such as the lack of diverse talent in developing these technologies and shortages of qualified labour due to barriers against half of the population. These disparities are not new, nor is the discussion surrounding them. Yet, they remain unresolved, and that is of growing concern.

The same disparity is evident in the field of cybersecurity – the people, technologies and industry that will protect the transformative technologies that will shape our future. Cybersecurity Ventures predicted there will be up to 3.5 million job openings by 2021 in the field of cybersecurity. The truth is that every IT position is really also a cybersecurity position. Every technology worker is involved with defending and fortifying apps, data, devices, infrastructure, and people. With this truth factored in, the cybersecurity workforce shortage is far more vast than what the numbers show.

Currently, women constitute only 20% of the cybersecurity workforce. The good news, bad news scenario is that rate is up from a mere 11% in 2013, but clearly, there’s a significant underrepresentation of women working in cybersecurity. The unemployment rate in cybersecurity was zero percent in 2016, and it’s expected to remain at zero through 2021. “The field of cybersecurity is the least populated of any field of technology,” according to John McAfee. “There are two job openings for every qualified candidate.”

The labour shortage offers a vast opportunity for women to step into these roles and balance out the cybersecurity industry. With such massive deficits of qualified, skilled candidates to fill these technology and cybersecurity roles, it is critical that historically underrepresented demographics step up and step into these roles. 

It’s bigger than just jobs in cybersecurity. As Christine Lagarde said, “When women do better, economies do better.” Most jobs are going to have a technology component in the new economy. With the rapidity of technology’s advancement, the precise skills that will be required are unknowable, especially in industries that have yet to be discovered. However, the fact is that women represent half of the world’s population, and therefore, women also represent half of the world’s possibility. Women must be educated in the skills required to excel in this new economic frontier and be made to feel welcome to participate in it.

Jessica Ortega of SiteLock says, “Women often don’t see tech or security as viable career paths because they’re often considered masculine professions.” There is much truth in that; however, it doesn’t have to be this way. Cybersecurity is about protecting people, and when individuals or corporations are victimized, figuring out who did it, and how. Defending innocent people is not an inherently male trait. In a time when skills such as empathy, creativity and dexterity are of increased importance, it is not a sound strategy to disregard half of the population’s ability to contribute talent to the workforce.

We must increase female participation in the cybersecurity industry, in all capacities and at all levels from an entry position to the C-Suite. That balance brings with it the promise of greater ingenuity, collaboration, and innovation.

As Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF states, “The equal contribution of women and men in this process of deep economic and societal transformation is critical. More than ever, societies cannot afford to lose out on the skills, ideas and perspectives of half of humanity to realize the promise of a more prosperous and human-centric future that well-governed innovation and technology can bring.” Alternatively, in the more poetic words of Maya Angelou, “diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value.”

Currently, the cybersecurity industry is looking a little threadbare. I’m not especially artisanal, but lately, I’ve grown increasingly interested in weaving, and the substantive fabric that can be created when men and women work together as equals.

Creating a balanced culture around conversations and lunch dates

A balanced corporate culture starts when those who have the power to affect change open their eyes and genuinely see where and what the problems are. As Sheryl Sandberg said, “We need to open our eyes to the inequality that remains. We won’t unlock the full potential of the workplace until we see how far from equality we really are.”

Companies need to re-evaluate equity at all levels, from the number of women who sit on their board of directors to their hiring practices at the entry level. Also, a support network needs to be in place so that after women are hired, they are more inclined to remain – that means addressing mentorship, communications, family support such as flexibility and childcare availability, and advancement potential. It isn’t enough to lure diverse candidates to the company, because if the corporate culture doesn’t support them, they won’t stay.

At a technology conference, co-founder of Bay Area-based Cowboy Ventures Aileen Lee said, “We have to make tech and tech-driven companies more equitable for women and people of color and people who are different — people who didn’t go to Harvard and Stanford, people who didn’t grow up with privilege.”  Lee went on to say that those in decision-making positions need to, “Pay attention not just to the numbers of who you’re hiring, but the culture — the quality of conversations, who’s going to lunch with whom. Paying attention to whether everyone in your company feels like they have an equal chance of being successful, regardless of what level or function they are in, I think is really important.”

To further highlight the importance of creating an equitable corporate culture, author Tara Mohr reflects on her place as a woman trying to climb the corporate ladder in a male-dominated workplace. She says, “When I went into the work world as a young twentysomethingI was constantly surprised by how often, it seemed, the emperor had no clothes. Major decisions were made and resources were allocated based not on good data or thoughtful reflection, but based on who had built the right relationships and had the chutzpah to propose big plans. It took me a while to understand that the habits of diligent preparation and doing quality work that I’d learned in school were not the only—or even primary—ingredients I needed to become visible and successful within my organization.” Chutzpah is typically associated with men. Like Lee, Mohr highlights how vital conversations are to the culture.  

Tips for joining the cybersecurity conversation

If you are a woman considering training for a position in cybersecurity or changing careers, here are a few tips the women of ISA can offer you.

1.     Find mentors.
Get out there and meet successful women working in the industry. Find them on LinkedIn, join a ‘women in technology’ community, go to seminars, and network. You will find great strength from other women who are willing, and who want to, network, inspire, and elevate. Mentors can give you advice, offer support and encouragement, and often be your advocate and ally.

2.     Take a risk.
It’s hard, but try not to be intimidated, even if you are the only woman in the room. Instead, reimagine the situation, realizing that you have a unique lens and can offer a perspective that no one else can. If you’re feeling intimidated, as Jessica Ortega says, remember, “Security doesn’t require innate magical abilities. You can learn everything you need to know to succeed. Don’t be afraid to fight for what you want.”

3.     Be a lifelong learner.
Cybersecurity and technology are continually changing, so you must remain current and continuously adapt your own skill set. This also demonstrates great initiative. Learn from the experiences of other women as well. Those that have been trailblazers in technology and cybersecurity have knowledge to impart, be willing to learn from them.

4.     Be confident.
Imposter syndrome be damned. You deserve to be in the room and have a seat at the table. If you have the skill set and knowledge required, then you deserve to be part of the conversation. Speak and act decisively. If you have a valid opinion or idea to contribute then do not silence your voice.

We are the women of ISA

It’s easy to speak out and be an agent of change when you feel supported, and much harder when you feel silenced and relegated to a lesser class. Julie Vi, Marketing Director at ISA, Enza Alexander, Executive Vice President Sales, and Tracy Broz, Manager, Inside Sales, are newer additions to ISA, working alongside two other women in leadership: Olivia Purchase and Andrea Interior. At ISA we are supported, we are listened to, we are equals. It needs to be known that ISA is changing and growing and welcoming strong women into positions of leadership.

Priscilla Moriuchi, Director of Strategic Threat Development at Recorded Future says, “The argument in favour of greater gender equality in cybersecurity is really not one of right vs. wrong or men vs. women. Rather, it’s that having more women in the workplace is good for business. Diversity in perspectives, leadership, and experience is good for business.” While Moriuchi’s statement reflects a growing sentiment across businesses in every sector, it is especially applicable in the cybersecurity space. “We need people with disparate backgrounds because the people we are pursuing, (threat actors, hackers, ‘bad guys’) also have a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences,” Moriuchi further explains, “The wider variety of people and experience we have defending our networks, the better our chances of success.”

ISA is bettering itself, and will, in turn, better serve its clients because ISA is benefitting from developing a rich tapestry, finding balance, and hearing from a diversity of perspectives. Team ISA respect each other, listen to each other, and value the strengths that each of us bring to the conversation. We, the women of ISA, are proud to be part of this thriving cybersecurity community.


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