Top Women in Cyber Security: Closing the inclusion gap

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    According to reports from Bloomberg, there could be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by 2025 if there are no solutions to close the inclusion gaps and help retain employees. 

    The “Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement” panel at IT World Canada‘s Top Women in Cyber Security event focused on ways to solve the shortage of workers in the sector, close the inclusion gap, and find solutions to help more women enter the field. 

    Panel moderator Kathie Miley, vice president of Americas security sales at VMware, revealed that with more business moved online, an increase in online fraud, and a huge influx of students being put into online schooling situations, companies are facing major hurdles as they try to scale up their cyber workforce. 

    Rushmi Hasham, director of development and accelerated cybersecurity training programs at Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University), spoke about who is specifically missing from the cyber security profession, based on a company study. 

    The study showed that women are underrepresented, as well as new Canadians. She said many new Canadians come in with great technical skills that they’ve gained in their home country, but they struggle to find opportunities here in Canada. Additionally, Hasham noted that people who have recently been displaced due to job loss during the pandemic are also an underrepresented group.

    The university ended up working with the government and partners such as RBC, Rogers Communications, and City of Brampton to address the talent gap issue.

    “We need to lower the threshold and create opportunities. We need to lower the barriers of economics, creating programming that is affordable. Making sure that programming is not daunting as a two to four year program to pivot into a new career, so accelerate the training as well as accelerate the time to employment. It’s a national imperative,” Hasham said. 

    She noted that if we don’t have enough people working in the sector, it can create a vulnerability for schools, communities, governments, and the economy. 

    The panellists also talked about the inclusion gap, focusing on salary equity and changes the industry needs to make to be more inclusive. 

    Katherine Isaac, vice president of customer success at Carbide, said in her personal experience, when she went on maternity leave, she struggled to keep up with her job due to the fast paced nature of the tech sector.

    “Things change so quickly in the industry that we’re in. Taking a year off work—it’s almost impossible to come back,” Isaac said.

    To help solve this issue, Isaac suggested “back to work” programs for women who take time off to take care of their families.. The program would focus on covering the gaps from the last year.

    “We can help women stay in the workforce, especially in fields like cyber security, so they don’t feel like they’ve got to make a choice. Career or family— we should not have to make that choice in 2022,” she said. 

    She also highlighted the salary gap problem that some women are facing in the tech sector.

    “You have some companies who are thinking, ‘well we can spend less if we hire a woman into this role,’” she said. “So we create opportunities for women by paying them less…We definitely want to see that gap close as well. We want the opportunities and we want salary equity at the same time.”

    Lastly, Hasham and Isaac talked about the importance of encouraging young girls to get into the cyber security field, and ways organizations can present cyber security as an attractive career.

    Hasham said that because cyber security is a relatively new field, parents don’t understand that cyber security can be a great profession, and therefore a career in that area isn’t often suggested.

    “For a lot of parents who aren’t exposed to tech or exposed to what cyber professionals do, it’s hard to be able to guide or coach your young girl into choosing that pathway,” she said.

    Hasham noted that in order to really get young girls interested in cyber security professions, teachers have to encourage it and programs need to be brought to schools. She said that work has to be done to show that cybersecurity is a creative and collaborative profession.