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Why so few women in cybersecurity?

Why the very low percentage of women working in cybersecurity? Women could be the key to overcoming the shortage of skilled workers required to combat online crime, it’s suggested.

Dr Donna Peacock, Programme Leader BSc (Hons) Sociology at the University of Sunderland has collaborated with Professor Alastair Irons, the university’s academic dean of Computer Science on research to explain gender inequality in cybersecurity. Some 219 individuals working in the sector, in the UK and beyond, completed an online survey, and the pair used these responses as the basis of their research paper, which is due to be published.

At only 11pc, the proportion of females in information security globally has been found to be even lower than in other related IT fields (15pc), despite there being no gender-specific requirements to work in cybersecurity.

Dr Peacock said: “The small percentage of women with careers in the Cybersecurity industry find the work challenging, stimulating, exciting, and well paid. Yet what our research has shown is that even young women and girls are being put off this industry at school, by family members and by careers advisors.

“Security and computing are both seen as male professions, even though there is no logical reason for this. Our research suggests that the sector tends to attract men with a background in security or law enforcement and an interest in computing; or men who are into gaming and computers, with an interest in security, possibly through experience of hacking. The industry uses male language and there’s a perception among businesses and even clients that men are better at this work.”

The research found that complex reasons why women are not considering cybersecurity as a career; schools, careers advisers and family members are not suggesting it as a potential opportunity. Family encouragement is much more important to females, with 24.6pc agreeing that they are influenced by their family, with only 9.6pc of males agreeing.

“The outcome is that if women do move into cybersecurity later on they do so at a lower grade – and then are harder to retain due to perceived differences in opportunities, worth and progression. Yet there is no reason that women cannot be trained to the same level as men and indeed that they may have different skills that will be beneficial to tackling cyber crime.”

The research paper concluded that the UK has an under-representation of women in cybersecurity jobs; addressing this issue will contribute to tackling the number of unfilled vacancies in the sector. Perhaps more importantly, it is a matter of social justice that there should be equality of opportunity in access to and progression within a well paid and intellectually stimulating work environment, the paper suggested.

Dr Donna Peacock added: “The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that there were two million instances of cybercrime experienced by victims in the 12 months to March 2016, and the National Crime Agency (2016) estimates that cyber crime is costing the UK economy billions of pounds per annum – and growing. Cyber crime is growing and we need a greater, more diverse workforce –attracting a far higher percentage of women to a career in cybersecurity would be a good start.”


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