Tuesday 17 July, 2018

Changing the narrative to empower young women in cybersecurity

On April 26, 2018, International Girls in ICT Day, Fortinet highlighted the need to encourage young women to consider this growing field. Women’s empowerment and a long-awaited equal footing is top of mind for many, but the importance of promoting a greater female presence in the cybersecurity market is often not discussed. With an increasing need for digital transformation and a growing cyber threat landscape in business, the need for more skilled experts in cybersecurity is rapidly rising and represents a unique career opportunity, as well as an opportunity for both young women and technology companies to reap the numerous benefits of a greater female presence in this vital sector.

Fortinet recently teamed up with IDC to study cybersecurity in business in Latin America. The LATAM Cybersecurity Interactive Whitepaper revealed that almost 25 percent of companies in Latin America and the Caribbean would be hiring cybersecurity talent. The issue is that three out of four companies also have difficulty in locating the cybersecurity talent they require, leaving a talent gap to be filled.

Women are severely underrepresented in cybersecurity industry by 11 percent, according to a Frost & Sullivan global study. The report, which explores men’s and women’s roles in cybersecurity across 170 countries, also reveals a serious discrepancy between Latin American and Caribbean males and females employed in the sector, with only 2 percent of participating women in managerial positions, compared to 28 percent of men, and 0 percent of females in C-level positions, compared to 7 percent of men.

Lack of skills contributes greatly to this gender gap, only 42 percent of women hold undergraduate degrees in computer and information sciences versus 48 percent of men. The gender gap widens further in engineering, where a mere 14 percent of women hold degrees in this field compared to 22 percent of men.

In an era where wars are waged online, where society can be easily disrupted by a breach and where an entire nation’s security could be prejudiced by a single cyberattack, the urgency for cybersecurity skills and diversity within its sector to be on par with the growing security demands continues to rise. Proper education and diversity encouragement, however, are not only necessary to achieve a more diverse and prepared cybersecurity workforce, but also to drive innovation and boost business productivity.

Numerous studies have shown that gender diversity in the workplace can reap many benefits. Research by the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) reveals gender-balanced companies can experience improved financial and employee performances, growth and productivity, among others. A McKinsey study, which explored the financial results in relation to gender composition in tech companies across Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, revealed organizations with one or more women on their executive committees performed better than those with all-male teams, with a 44 percent higher return on equity and a 47 percent higher EBIT margin.

With cybersecurity acting as a fundamental building block for companies to protect their valuable data, customers and reputation, the growing necessity to have well-trained professionals to curb the constantly adapting threat landscape has never demanded our attention more than it does today. In a region where over 12 million females were unemployed in 2017, the cybersecurity sector represents a labor opportunity for Latin America’s future generations of female professionals.

As the leading cybersecurity vendor in Latin America and the Caribbean, we are committed to help addressing this talent and gender gap. For this reason, we created the Fortinet Network Security Academy (FNSA) four years ago. Designed to develop and train cybersecurity experts to help reduce the global skills shortage, the FNSA program is free for universities and students and is available around the world, including in Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Changing the narrative from a severe lack of female presence in the industry to a proactive approach of empowering women, shifting a cultural mindset and building a thriving workforce environment for young professionals to pursue is essential in the advancement of the cybersecurity sector and its gender diversity.

This article was written by Elisa Ball, Director of Human Resources for Latin America and the Caribbean at Fortinet