In 2019, a report released by Cybersecurity Ventures found that women represented around 20% of the global cybersecurity workforce. This, a mere two years after Frost & Sullivan pointed a menacing finger at the 1.8 million vacant cybersecurity seats by 2020 and the dearth of skills and people within an incredibly critical industry. There is a lack of female representation within this industry and a lack of actual skills needed to populate the growing number of requirements from organisations facing a rising cyber threat. The answer, according to Anna Collard, Managing Director of KnowBe4 Africa, is to encourage women to cross-skill and expand into cybersecurity roles and to make the industry more welcoming as a whole.
“Cybersecurity isn’t just ones and zeros, it’s the people factor, it’s understanding the nuances of business and the value of technology and being capable of managing multiple threads at the same time,” she adds. “It can be project and people management, ethical hacking, coding as well as the ability to problem solve at speed. The industry is incredibly nuanced and this is what needs to be communicated to the next generation of cybersecurity professional regardless of gender or education.”
This is not to say that women can’t dig themselves deep into technology, they obviously can. But Collard points out that cybersecurity, has been made to feel more complicated than it actually is. Anyone can walk into this industry; all they need is a hunger for continuous learning.
“Women need to see that taking on a role within cybersecurity is exciting, challenging and interesting. I certainly didn’t realise how varied and dynamic this space was until I fell into it, by accident. I studied International Economics and now I am the Managing Director of a company that’s dedicated to cybersecurity awareness training and development.”
Collard’s road from student in Munich, learning about economics, interning in Singapore to founder of a cybersecurity firm in South Africa wasn’t straight, but it was led by opportunity, mentorship and grit. People in the industry recognising the value that she added and how her skills could translate into cybersecurity. And this is key to changing the chromosome dynamic in this industry – providing women with the opportunity to expand their skills and explore new areas that previously they didn’t think were in their remit.
“I firmly believe in two things – mentorship and online resources,” says Collard. “Mentorship is critical to giving people, not just women, the confidence they need to explore this industry and the variety that it offers. Even more importantly, you can teach yourself whatever you need to know using online resources. I think that if a woman can teach herself how to make smoky eyes on YouTube, she can easily learn how to do anything in security. Anything.”
Collard has a point. Many professionals supplement their industry understanding with courses and research provided online. In fact, continuous professional development and a relentless curiosity are two key qualities that define a successful cybersecurity professional, no matter where they stand in the field.
“When I first started out, I did feel inferior to some of my male colleagues who had heavy tech backgrounds,” concludes Collard. “Then, I tapped into them as a resource and used their vast understanding and insight to help me upskilling myself. With their guidance and my own creative tendencies, I was able to see the bigger picture and develop a cybersecurity career that has seen me grow, and sell, my own cybersecurity business. This is an incredibly interesting and diverse industry where anyone open to learning can find a foothold, we just need to show them how.”
To fill the growing gaps in cybersecurity skills development and to improve gender diversity, the industry needs to demystify its perceived complexity and scrub away the sense that this is a male dominated domain. This approach will not only help improve the imbalances in gender diversity but it will ignite an interest in the industry as a whole, filling in those gaping skill holes with much needed talent from across all areas of business and market.