Facing the challenge of women in cyber security

11 July 2018

Facing the challenge of women in cyber security

The cyber security industry is experiencing huge growth, but women are significantly under-represented in the field, globally and locally. The 5th annual NZ Cyber Security Challenge at the University of Waikato is tackling the issue head-on for the first time, targeting women for the event and highlighting what is a worldwide issue.

The 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study: Women in Cyber Security states:

  • Women compromise only 11% of the information security workforce
  • Women reported higher levels of education than men, yet they earn less at every level
  • 51% of women surveyed indicated they have experienced various forms of discrimination.

The report also points out that with a projected workforce gap of 1.8 million cyber security professionals by 2022, the problem of under-representation and under-utilisation of women needs to be solved to shrink the gap.

This year, the NZ Cyber Security Challenge is holding a Women in Cyber Security Workshop, including a panel of women who will speak about the issues they face in the industry, and how they can be addressed.

Director of the New Zealand Institute for Security and Crime Science Associate Professor Ryan Ko says finding a way to raise and discuss the issue of the lack of women in the industry has been a useful learning process in itself. “We need a diverse workforce in cyber security to provide different ways of thinking and increase New Zealand’s overall capability. We are hoping to contribute to the increase of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (Stem) and cyber security through this event, and we thank our panelists and sponsors for their support in making it happen. There are close to 60 participants signed up for the Women in Cyber Security Workshop, we are also encouraged to see a fivefold increase in women participants at the Cyber Security Challenge itself.”

On the panel

Rebecca Trapani, a penetration tester from Australia. She says diversity in technology is not just about getting more women, people of colour, LGBTQI+ individuals or those with disabilities involved so people can have feel warm and fuzzy inside. “Technology companies are designing, controlling and influencing how we communicate, what we eat, and even how we vote. A lack of diversity means a lack of incredibly important voices in these decisions and will ultimately lead to harmful blind spots in our near future. Fixing diversity problems isn’t as simple as buying a newer bigger pipeline. We need to fix the problems in the old one, and the solution to that isn’t something that can be captured in a sentence or two. It involves people sitting down and listening to the stories instead of shrugging them away as a one-off,  and fixing the problems at the root cause.”

Meenakshee Mungro, a Senior Software Developer who has been involved in the NZ Cyber Security Challenge in the past. “We need to see women involved because we could be missing out on the next Ada Lovelace or the next Grace Hopper by not actively encouraging young women to pursue a career in tech. It's easy for young girls to feel intimidated and apprehensive at the thought of a career in a male-dominated field and this is a big barrier that we need to overcome.”

Erica Anderson, a Senior Incident Manager at CERT NZ. She says increasing the number of women in security is just one facet of improving the mix of people in the industry. “Diversity creates opportunities to make security accessible for users. We need to recognise that if everyone in security looks the same, we won’t get the right outcomes for the broad range of users who have to interact with cyber security concepts every day. Creating opportunities for people from different backgrounds to learn from each other is an important part of helping the industry grow and thrive. Whether that diversity comes from your technical background or your life experience, having different perspectives in security makes the products we create better.”

Sai Honig a Senior Security Advisor for cloud-based accounting software company, Xero and a (ISC)2 Board of Directors Member. “The diversity of online threats require diversity of thought on how to address them.  Women are one group that needs to bring that diversity of thought."

The NZ Cyber Security Challenge will take place on July 13-14 at the University of Waikato.

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