First, if governments and organisations are serious about attracting women into cybersecurity, they must think about how the profession is defined and “sold”.
Cybersecurity is a complex, multi-disciplinary domain, requiring skills in the law, ethics, education, public policy, and information security. Yet too often, cybersecurity is framed as being only the domain of computer scientists, law-enforcement agencies and the military – all highly male-dominated sectors in which impediments to the successful recruitment and retention of women are extremely well documented.
Cybersecurity involves managing risk and good governance – two areas where women excel. A 2021 study published in the prestigious international Journal of Business Ethics found having more women on a company’s board of directors was strongly associated with better data governance practices, and better disclosure of cyber incidents.
Cybersecurity requires teamwork, collaboration, and co-operation. But entry-level job advertisements are too often peppered with words like “threats”, “attacks” and “intrusions” and “defence”, which reinforce popular stereotypes of cybersecurity workers as basement-dwelling, hoodie-clad hackers.
Why does this matter? The language used to describe a job (or an entire field) can dissuade women from applying. Researchers from the University of Waterloo and Duke University have shown that when job advertisements use stereotypically masculine language – such as “leader”, “competitive” or “dominant” – women are less likely to see these jobs as appealing and are less likely to apply.
Australia urgently needs more cybersecurity workers. To meet this demand, it needs women. We need a cyber-skills revolution – and that means breaking down stereotypes and a new way of thinking and talking about what a cybersecurity professional looks like.
Dr Meraiah Foley is deputy director of the Women and Work Research Group at The University of Sydney Business School. She is running a pilot study examining how to boost women’s participation in cybersecurity careers, and is inviting key industry stakeholders to be interviewed for the study. To participate, contact Dr…