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Closing the cyber gender skills gap

Over one million women work in STEM in the UK, according to recent data. On the surface, it sounds like a cause for celebration. And, on some level, it is, equating to an increase of over 350,000 women in the past decade. However, this is not enough, writes Cheryl Torano, Cyber Security Engineer, at the cloud data services company Brightsolid.

These one million women represent just 24pc of the total UK STEM workforce. When 50pc of the population is female, yet they represent less than a quarter of employees in a specific industry, it’s clear there’s an issue.

This disparity is even more noticeable in the technology sector, which has seen a decline of female employees over the past decade. Women only represent about 16pc of the British ICT workforce. Despite cyber and cloud skills being in significant demand, there is something clearly holding women back when considering a career in tech.

I know this because I am a woman who once thought I didn’t belong in technology.

I grew up in a non-traditional household with a single parent but was raised primarily by my grandparents and aunt. Academia didn’t seem like the right place for me: I was excluded from high school on 18 separate occasions and left school at 16, later becoming a single mum myself.

For more than a decade, I worked in an office and, as part of my role, often found myself researching how to fix our IT equipment when it broke down. This led me to studying for an HND in Computer Network and Internet Information Technology when I was 29, where I was the only woman in my class. By the time I was 33, I had graduated with a BSc degree in Ethical Hacking.

But I am far from the only woman who has taken an unorthodox path to work in STEM. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have studied Computer Science from age 11 to break into the industry. You don’t need to have a background in STEM to learn it as an adult. Most jobs in this sector rely on transferable skills such as creativity, problem solving, and teamwork.

These days, more and more companies are recognising that STEM doesn’t require an individual to follow a specific path. More importantly, they’re recognising that technological know-how shouldn’t be the exclusive domain of the IT department. With technology woven into the tapestry of an organisation, whether your job function is in IT or not, understanding technology is – or should be – a requirement for nearly every position.

This theme extends as more companies realise it is crucial for all employees to keep abreast of the latest technological developments that impact their business and so are upskilling them. At Brightsolid, I run an in-house cyber security training and awareness programme to ensure all my co-workers are aware of the latest cyber trends. Throughout the organisation, all employees are encouraged to become AWS certified and gain cloud skills regardless of their job function.

Encouraging upskilling (whether it is cyber focused or in other areas) among people without an IT background is so important in the current environment, especially given the traditionally low numbers of women studying technology. While upskilling is important for both men and women, it’s important to remember that many women currently in the workforce may not have had the chance to obtain technology-related degrees, or felt welcome to do so when they had the opportunity. By giving them a chance to gain the skills now, we are helping to close the gender gap in STEM.

To close the gender gap longer term, we need more girls and young women studying cyber security or computer science – irrespective of their background or journey to the profession. Helping women who are already in the workforce gain these skills may even have a trickle-down effect. Perhaps these women will then go on to mentor our future workforce: one study showed that women need female role models more than men need male role models to inspire them in their career ambitions. This is one of the many reasons that I volunteer as a STEM Ambassador and as a WISE Woman role model.

But it’s not just about giving women more opportunities to get involved in STEM. Businesses with diverse teams – gender diversity included – develop more innovative solutions and increase their productivity. After all, as Malala Yousafzai once pointed one, “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”

About the firm

Brightsolid has data centres in Aberdeen and Dundee, with public cloud services from AWS.

Picture by Mark Rowe; detail, artwork, Runnymede, Surrey.


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