Gender Gap and Cyber Security

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Patriarchy. 

A social structure so deeply embedded in our systems, that we see its evidence and repercussions every single day. As a woman, I witness the presence of patriarchy and its practice very closely and in many situations, big and small. 

It is a social construct so built, that it has created not one but too many walls and barriers on the pathways of other genders. Especially women. The sense of superiority it has given to the male gender has been carried and passed on from generation to generation. This has led to a big gender gap that stands tall in almost every walk of life. 

Irrespective of all the awareness and revolutions for women rights, the trickle down effect of patriarchy is inevitable. Women are still denied opportunities and rights ,owing only to their gender. I can go on and on about how patriarchy has impacted the growth of women over the decades. Its impact is seen in women of diverse backgrounds. Whether it is an Indian woman or American, whether it is a homemaker or a working woman, gender inequality has visibly and negatively impacted all of us. 

Working women, subjected to these impacts and have been fighting for equal professional environments for many years. Gender pay gap, gender ratio gap, employment gap, ownership gap are the many issues that still need redressal.

A major profession that sees a major gender gap is cyber security.

Irrespective of many female cyber security officials or workers, there are not enough females in the differing levels of the industry. A study reported that back in 2011 only 11% women were working in the International Cyber Security space(ICS). While there are many reasons why women are not in this big picture, some of these reasons are also solely choice based too.

To understand the reasons behind a gender gap in cyber security, we need to understand why equal representation is important. 

It becomes very convenient to work and formulate laws based on a singular approach of the majority. However understanding and accepting a second opinion and approach and then formulating laws is welfare oriented and considerate. Not just for lawmaking, an equal understanding and application of approaches is very important in every situation. 

Now let’s look at 3 major reasons why gender gap is an evident issue in the cyber security space:

1. A problem of perception:

The cyber security space has created a large number of jobs each year. It is a leading and promising industry that looks for pure talent and interest in the people applying. However, the cyber security jobs are stereotyped as being very “technical”.

A very traditional picture of ---a tired-looking man sitting in a closed room surrounded by computers all day--- has made the space less desirable for women. The technicality of the roles in cyber security apparently makes it more desirable and opted by males. 

2. Gender bias:

A conscious or unconscious gender bias is inescapable in most professions. Cyber security too, has its fair share of biases and workplace discriminations. A study reports that 51% of respondents reported some form of discrimination and 87% felt the bias was unconscious.

Gender pay gap also plays a major role in lesser women candidates.

An American study reports-  “When asked about their previous year’s salaries, 17% of women said they earned U.S. $50,000 to $99,999, a full 12 percentage points less than men (29%),”

An endless preference game leads to an unequal representation which in turn leads to unconscious or conscious bias and finally its impact is seen as gender favouritism and pay gap.  

3. Inadequate training and awareness

Though an extremely well-known profession, there are still many doubts in the minds of the youth with respect to working in the cyber security space. Students mostly coming in from STEM education backgrounds are mostly preferred and hence applicants from other backgrounds tend to step back a little. While a specific college education is important, it is necessary that students be aware of the details of this procedure. 

Women candidates need to be made aware of the pros and cons of working in the industry and should be encouraged, trained and supported to take up jobs if their interest lies in it. 

What can be done?

A step towards a big change starts with the smallest change we make. Encouraging interested female students to take up computer science and excel in similar fields is the basic step. Educators play a very major role in this area. 

Another very important step can be done via the females who are already excelling in the cyber security space. A strong role model is all youngsters need sometimes. Therefore seeing a woman excelling in a male dominated field can be inspiring to the young aspiring female candidates. 

Mentoring and coaching are also the biggest help the higher ups and the government can give. The simple objective of the mentors should be to create safe spaces for aspiring women and help them realise their potential through conversation and activity.

 Normalisation of women in cyber security is extremely important. It is the duty of educators, professionals and even commoners to have an unbiased approach towards the field. Challenging the traditional perspectives and replacing them with modern day approaches is vital for creating safer and equal work spaces. 

Conclusion:

While the number of women occupying jobs in the cyber security space is increasing over the years, it is important to remember that the gap is too big and there is still a lot to do.

If the issue of gender gap is looked at closely, the intensity of the problem often leaves us wondering if we can ever surpass its undaunting presence in society. While most of the mentioned solutions are very simple and doable, what might actually bring them to life is the support of the cyber security industry itself. 

Through school level encouragement and a strong and promising support system, it is highly possible that we might see an increasing trend of women in the cyber security space. The answer not just lies with them but all of the society as a whole. It is our responsibility to surpass our biases and the many women out there, reach their full potential.

 

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