Eskenzi PR has been in the cyber/technology industry for over 26 years now. Over this time, we have attended hundreds of conferences, award ceremonies, interviews and roundtables. As we shimmy our way through rows of seats or find our place at the banquet table, the women on our team will often find that we are just one of a handful in a sea of men; frequently, white men.
For years, the industry has been characterised by the infamous man in the hoodie crouched behind a glowing screen. This imagery simply does not resonate with women, or any minority for that matter. It has presented a certain unattainable mystic around hacking, and cybersecurity more generally, that tends to deter women from entering the industry, if they even consider it an option for them in the first place. Those who do succeed have had to overcome the assumption that they are in the room as a personal assistant as opposed to the specialist leading the meeting. Aileen Ryan, Senior Director of Portfolio Strategy at Siemens EDA, for instance, had been asked on numerous occasions in the past to make tea/coffee or take the meeting minutes.
The industry has no doubt improved by leaps and bounds with regard to diversity since 1995 when Eskenzi PR was first established. However, studies show that we still have a way to go. The NCSC, for example, reveals that over 85% of professionals in cybersecurity are white; while black, Asian and mixed ethnicities make up just under 15%. Moreover, two thirds identify as male.
There is not one individual responsible for this lack of diversity and for the most part, no one goes out of their way to be malicious or unwelcoming. In fact, since joining the cyber industry I have found this community to be among the most supportive and kind – an observation I’m sure many others can attest to. Yet, the system is not.
What we have is a systemic problem. It’s artificial intelligence directing tech job adverts towards young males, HR policies that inadvertently disadvantage working mothers, ingrained stereotypes and language that unconsciously chip away at one’s self-confidence. And it can start from a young age.
When I was in primary school, I remember clear as day when my mum came home from parent-teacher evening and shared some feedback. According to my teacher, I was too “bossy”. Now whether or not that was a defining moment in determining my assertiveness moving forward is unclear; But what I do know, is that it made an impression on me even today at my ripe-old age of 25.
I don’t believe that any of this was or is intentional in discouraging girls or women from a certain career path or the like, but it does not mean that we should become complacent. We should also strive for more than just diversity, we should aim for inclusion too. Women should not be made to feel like the ‘token female’, they should be respected as the experts that they are in the field. As Regina Bluman, security analyst at Algoria puts it, “I have opinions and valuable experience which I would like to share beyond just ‘my story’”.
In a world hell-bent on political correctness, it can be intimidating to know what to do for fear that any mistake could result in negative repercussions. I, myself, am continuing to learn about my own privilege as someone who is white (half, at least!), able-bodied and fortunate enough not have had financial worries growing up. Yet, if we can all stay conscious of what we say and do, and learn from the mistakes we make, then I have no doubt we can grow together. If we can spotlight minorities who are paving the way to show others the heights they might go, no matter the career; If we can continue to discuss issues with an open mind and open heart; If we proactively take steps to correct past behaviours and biased systems…Then maybe we will finally see real change.
Our gender, race, sexual orientation etc. has and should not have a bearing on our competence. If women want to be coders, security analysts, CISOs, business owners etc., they can, and will do so among the best of them. Just look at the number of inspiring women doing extraordinary work in the industry today: https://www.itsecurityguru.org/most-inspiring-women-cyber-2021/
But when the odds are stacked up against you because of it, then it certainly matters that we raise the issue and take action to address it.
In an effort to provide a forum for discussion, and to celebrate the many incredible women in the cybersecurity industry, Eskenzi PR works alongside the IT Security Guru to host the Most Inspiring Women in Cyber Awards. In its second year, the awards are sponsored by Beazley and KPMG. Find out more here: https://www.itsecurityguru.org/most-inspiring-women-cyber-2021/