Jane Chappell could soon be one of cybersecurity‘s leading female role models. The Operations Director for UK-based Arcanum Information Security used International Women’s Day (March 8) to make a public call for more women to consider a career in the field.
Jane Chappell a role model for women in cybersecurity?
Chappell hopes to inspire a new generation of women to enter the traditionally male-dominated field and said: “Women shouldn’t be scared of cyber. It’s a hugely rewarding career for anyone, regardless of gender.”
She has broken glass ceilings for women in the sector throughout her career and was the first woman to command a cyber unit in the British Army and has since helped the MoD, NATO, and the European Commission.
Since 2008, she has been at Arcanum and has worked on contracts for highly classified work from major clients in the UK and abroad – often in defence, police forces, government departments, and critical national infrastructure.
So what does ‘cyber’ actually mean? For Jane and her Arcanum colleagues, it’s simply about protecting people and information.
That may involve advising on setting up robust computer systems, helping with criminal investigations, or protecting against hackers. It also includes ensuring an organisation’s cybersecurity is fit for purpose and providing trusted training to avoid security risks where daily work is defined by ultra-confidentiality, NDAs, and intricate behind-the-scenes work.
She has never spoken to the media about her job, but she wants to highlight what a career in cyber can mean for women – especially as Arcanum’s team is almost half female.
Getting more women into the sector
She said: “Since moving into the IT or cybersecurity profession over 20 years ago, as a career changer, I have found that attitudes have been open and accepting toward me and other women. Perhaps entering the profession when mature rather than as a young woman made a difference as my confidence was already well developed.
“Today, 20% of the cybersecurity industry is female and growing. Within a generation, this will increase to 40-45%, which is a vast increase for such a ‘new’ profession. I’d say that while a figure of 80% of an industry shows it’s still male-dominated, women shouldn’t feel intimidated.
“During the last 10 years, I have seen a significant increase in women working in all aspects of cyber. On a recent National Cyber Security Assessment Panel, 45% were women with careers in cybersecurity.
“For me, being a woman has not made any difference whatsoever. However, I do have an armed forces background where during my early years of servicewomen accounted for approximately 5% of the serving personnel.”
She added: “Discrimination in cybersecurity wasn’t an issue, and I never encountered any bias. Perhaps this was because so few people understood ‘cyber’, which was then referred to as IT Security, so they were interested in the knowledge that both women and men had.
“Cybersecurity is an everyday word now, and many people know much more about it. There’s a great deal more publicity and ‘hype’ about women in the profession today, which I feel detracts from the fact that the profession needs people with passion and ability at all levels, regardless of gender.”
Chappell hopes her experience and enthusiasm for the sector will inspire a new generation of women: “Whenever I have the opportunity to do so, I chat to young women about their career aspirations and talk to them about the breadth of opportunities and different cyber disciplines that are open and available to them.
“I explain how I made the career change as a mature woman and what working in the cyber profession means to me, personally, how widely interesting it is and the roles I have filled as well as the cybersecurity business I co-founded.
“For a time, I commanded an Army Reserve cyber unit of 60 people who have varied civilian career backgrounds. Although we had a small percentage of women, what we all had in common were clear aims and objectives to achieve as well as a determination to ‘get the job done.’
“The work took us all over the world into many environments, including some with adverse conditions. Leading by example has always being a mantra of mine, so this has always ‘set the scene’ and made the fact that a woman was leading the unit/team somewhat immaterial!”
Her career advice for women wanting a future in cybersecurity is straightforward: “Cybersecurity has many disciplines, so do your research and ask questions. If you can, talk to other women who are already embarking on or working in cyber. Find out what appeals and interests you, whether it be security architecture, penetration testing, cyber compliance/auditing, or one of the many other areas. Ask yourself whether you wish to work with other cyber professionals to share knowledge and obtain mentoring or be the only cyber professional in an organisation.
An industry with many disciplines
“I’ve never regretted my career move into cyber as it’s such a developing profession, provides a great deal of job satisfaction and has an extensive outreach network.”
The cyber industry found itself in the headlines last year with a Government ad campaign urging people to retrain and consider a career in cyber. One ad featured a picture of a ballet dancer, and the words ‘Fatima’s next job could be in cyber. She just doesn’t know it yet’.
The ad was removed after a backlash and criticism that the Government was failing to support the arts.
Chappell said: “The advertisement sent mixed messages and was ill-thought-out with little depth or supporting information.
“Government initiatives such as the National Cyber Security Centre’s CyberFirst for 11-17 years olds which has a girls’ competition and Cyber Security Challenge which runs competitions, networking events and careers fairs, encourage diversity and inclusivity and are established, successful programmes providing development opportunities.”
She said that anyone from any background can find a place in cyber if they want to.
“Because there are so many disciplines within cybersecurity it’s attractive as a second or third career as well as a first. Not every role in cyber security is deeply technical and I have met women with many and varied interests and career backgrounds who have studied or trained to make the transition to cyber security. If you are willing to learn, study or retrain and set your sights on what you wish to achieve, there’s no reason why someone who has an arts background or mindset shouldn’t succeed.”