Female IT professionals are few and far between. Statistics show that globally, just 10% of IT professionals are women, while in Europe that number drops to just 7%. Numbers of women in cyber security and other areas of IT are continuing to drop in spite of the UK government’s attempts to close the skills gap within schools. Other agencies are also looking to promote interest and ability in IT, with cyber security having now been introduced through the Brownies and Girl Guides.
Introducing Girls to Cyber Security
With the Girl Guides’ Surf-Smart badge, young girls learn how to stay safe from hackers and other malicious outsiders while using the internet as part of their time with the Brownies and Girl Guides. The girls are introduced to different computer viruses, how to create safe passwords, and how different technologies work. The aim is to enhance interest among girls in areas of IT and show them how this is relevant to their lives. It will also help them to realise that IT skills and knowledge are not limited by gender.
There are all sorts of projects taking place around the country looking to educate and encourage girls in the area of information technology. These include all-female IT camps, awards for excellence for women in IT, and a push within schools to encourage girls to pick up IT subjects. So what is holding them back from going on to an IT or cyber security career?
It can sometimes prove challenging to overcome the barriers between women and what appear to be male-dominated industries. IT is up there with building, engineering, maths and science as being perceived as something only men are interested in, and only men can really thrive in. But this is most certainly a misconception.
Going into industries like this, women can sometimes suffer from ‘imposter syndrome,’ feeling as though they don’t really belong and don’t actually know as much as their male counterparts. It is true that in the past, women would often have to work twice as hard and prove twice as much knowledge as their male colleagues before they could be considered for a promotion. Today, things have changed, but this needs to be communicated to more women and girls.
The other misconception is that working in cyber security means sitting in front of a computer all day every day, programming. There are so many different jobs involved in IT and cyber security, but very few women are really aware of the potential. Working in cyber security can mean looking at cyber crime, building software, consultancy, threat management, or digital forensics, to name but a few.
Pay and Discrimination
Besides these misconceptions, there are other more solid reasons for the lack of women in cyber security. One study, for example, found that male IT professionals in Europe earn an average of £9100 more than their female counterparts. The study also found that women in cyber security are more likely to suffer discrimination in the workplace.
Other issues arise when you consider the fact that employers are more likely to employ people with STEM or computing degrees, which are much more commonly held by men. However, employers also need to realise that these more traditional technology-based degrees may not be where the best professionals are coming from.
Cyber Security And Women – Solving the Problem
With today’s industries relying so much on IT and cyber security playing such a vital role for everyone, awareness of gender discrimination and the IT skills gaps is also on the rise. This is evident from the amount of work the UK government is putting in to addressing these issues.
We have to work on encouraging young women to discover their interests and talents in IT and cyber security. We also need to ensure a broader awareness of the potential job prospects, and disperse common misconceptions and stereotypes about IT professionals.
Networks are popping up around the world which work to support women in cyber security. These include Women in Cyber Security, Women’s Society for Cyberjutsu, and the UK-based Women in Technology. Now it is an important issue for the UK government, it’s equally as important for IT professionals and those employing IT professionals to follow suit in supporting the roles of women in cyber security.