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Women in Cyber: Creating a Vibrant Culture for Our Future

NEWS / 03.08.22 / Erin Ransom

Cybercrime is on the rise and there are great shortages of security analysts worldwide – yet women are estimated to hold just 25% of cybersecurity jobs.

Why aren’t there more women in cybersecurity? Two interrelated problems may contribute to this:

  • Pipeline: We don't have enough women with college or university science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degrees. For example, in the U.S., women earn only 38% of STEM degrees.

  • Culture: Women with STEM degrees don’t want to work at tech companies. For women who earn STEM degrees, only 27% work in their field. Women leave tech companies at a rate two times faster than men. 

The result is a chicken and egg scenario: Because fewer women study and work in STEM, we continue to have male-dominated cultures that may not be attractive to women.

Organizations are paving the way to spark interest in technology careers at a young age, and many great cybersecurity programs exist to support and encourage women. This will help to address the "pipeline" issue, but that still leaves culture.

What can we do now to shift the culture so that when those women are ready to enter the workforce, there is a vibrant culture that supports women working alongside men?

Understanding the Undercurrent

According to June Sugiyama, Director of the Vodafone Americas Foundation, while “most women don’t experience obvious forms of discrimination or sexism” in the workforce, “they face an undercurrent of condescension that leads to a feeling of isolation.”

Since women in tech are underrepresented, many may have the experience of being the “only woman in the room.” McKinsey & Company research refers to "microaggressions” that underrepresented groups can experience in situations that lack diversity, such as dealing with teammates who interrupt them, repeat their ideas as if they are their own, or ask them to do menial tasks such as take the meeting notes. The research suggests women are also more likely than men to have their competence questioned and their authority undermined, even when in leadership positions.

Source: McKinsey & Company research

The Undercurrent Can Be Subtle but Pervasive

It's important for all participants to recognize when microaggressions may be occurring, and try to correct the situation. Examples include:

  • “I don’t think she/he was done speaking – I want to hear her/his explanation.”
  • “I think Ann raised that idea earlier.”
  • “Maybe John can take the notes for this meeting since Jane did it last week.”

Don't Be a Bystander

What happens if it isn’t just an undercurrent? Most people have bystander paralysis when something negative happens that they’re not expecting. Dr. Brad Johnson, of UPWARD Men, advises men to break the conversation and utter a simple word, “Ouch.”

  • “Ouch – that joke is not okay.”
  • “Ouch – that’s not what we do at this company.”

Breaking the flow with a single utterance of the word “ouch” can create a pause in the conversation, immediately acknowledge something has happened and help de-escalate the situation.

Vibrant Inclusive Cultures

Creating a vibrant culture isn’t just about gender diversity. Ultimately, it’s about creating a high-performing team dynamic. Diverse teams drive more creativity and are better at problem solving. Repeatedly, diverse teams outperform those with “group think.” 

Trust is fundamental to a high performing team. When trust exists, a team learns to rely on each other, people feel comfortable to share their perspectives and ideas, and conflict is dealt with constructively.

  • Recognize differences. It’s fine if part of your team likes football, but if it dominates every non-work conversation, the rest of the team may be left on the sidelines. When differences are ignored, people withdraw or feel uncomfortable sharing their perspectives. Something as simple as recognizing when there’s only one female team lead can demonstrate openness and sincerity.

  • Celebrate achievements. Recognize people when they do a great job. Create a culture that openly celebrates the wins and diversity of the teams. Make sure you are amplifying female teammates by giving them credit in front of others.

  • Keep your female leaders front and center. Having women in leadership positions is critical for other women wanting to work at your organization. Recruiting? Avoid the mistake of having the women hand out t-shirts while only men take the stage. It can send the wrong message to those women graduating with STEM degrees about how inclusive your organization is.

Closing Thoughts

Teams make better decisions when we have real gender integration. Research by Deloitte suggests companies with an inclusive culture are six times more likely to be innovative! As we encourage more women to pursue STEM and cybersecurity careers, let's build inclusive work cultures so there’s a welcoming and vibrant workplace waiting for them to succeed.

Erin Ransom

About Erin Ransom

 Vice President, Sales Enablement, BlackBerry.  

Erin Ransom is an executive who has worked in Marketing, Product Marketing, Operations, and Sales Enablement. In 2019, Erin was nominated for two 'Women in IT Canada' awards: Digital Leader of the Year and Data Leader of the Year. She regularly mentors other women and speaks at conferences about her experience as a leader in the tech industry.