Why cybersecurity needs more women and is education the key?

Cybersecurity may be a young and dynamic industry, but what is it like to be a woman in the sector?

As the world has moved to working and living online due to the coronavirus pandemic, cybersecurity has become more important than ever. Niamh Muldoon, EMEA Senior Director of Trust and Security at OneLogin details what it’s like for women in the industry, and how gender diversity can improve.

What do you do to help improve gender equality in cybersecurity?

I work with (ISC)₂, to help them award scholarships to women who want to further their career or get into cybersecurity. My job is to review the scholarship applications they receive from females across the world. I review them blindly, and I look for things like passion, merits and financial needs.

Secondly, I work a lot with women in Ireland and across Europe that are starting their career in cybersecurity and give them advice based on their skills set, and mentor them for job promotions. I do a lot of promoting cybersecurity at colleges and schools too.

Why do we need to promote cybersecurity at the schools?

I’ve been in cybersecurity for over 20 years, but it wasn’t a career option when I was in school or college. I fell into my career after the events of September 11th, 2001, when the world of security completely changed.

Bringing the career to the schools opens people’s eyes to the career opportunities in cybersecurity, and for a lot of young girls seeing a female role model share their experiences makes it real.

I lecture in postgraduate programmes, and for years there were less than 10% of females in a class; now there is over 20%. Currently, 50% of the women in the cybersecurity modules are working in the industry while studying.

I also work on another programme called FACE – Fast track your career into IT, an apprenticeship programme for cybersecurity targeting young women, so they know it’s a career option. I brought in the apprenticeship programme in my previous role at DocuSign, which achieved the same goals.

Would more mentorship help diversify the industry?

Absolutely. When I was at Workday, I worked with Vanessa Pegaross as her mentee. It was taking that opportunity to work with her that helped catapult me to the position I am in today.

It was her sponsorship too that really had an impact. There’s a big difference between mentorship and sponsorship, with sponsorship, they put their career on the line for you, they will always support you and have your back no matter what. That’s been the key difference that’s helped me.

What are the benefits for the mentors?

It keeps your pulse on the ground. It helps you understand how the industry is changing. Yes, there are basic technical skills needed for cybersecurity, but the process, personal and people skills are just as important.

If you understand the challenges that your mentees face, it helps you change your programme so you can deliver your goals.

For example, Incident Response is a key programme within cybersecurity that needs not just an understanding of how everyone in your team operates, but the ability to bring them together as a team. If these team members are your mentees, you have the knowledge of how they work, which gives you the ability to structure the work in a way that the whole team can benefit.

With the pandemic and the new norm of flexible working, you really need good communication to understand the root causes of problems that may be arising.

What do you want the future of cybersecurity to look like?

In 2020, there has been an increase in gender diversity in universities when it comes to choosing cybersecurity as a career, and that’s one positive of the pandemic. Where there weren’t other summer programmes available, they opted for cybersecurity.

Everybody online has a digital identity, and we need to bear that in mind when moving forward in cybersecurity. I think things like a digital drivers license or a digital identity could be introduced to show that you have a basic understanding of the digital threats of day-to-day life, as well as what you would tackle in the industry.

There’s a huge opportunity for diversity and inclusion in these ideas from a training perspective, too. Everybody can get involved in driving these initiatives.

What are you most proud of in your career?

Giving back to the industry. Most importantly, being able to mentor and support females in the industry. I was fortunate to have mentors in my career. My first mentor was the COO of Irish Banks, Marcel McCann. There wasn’t a clear career path for me, and he helped develop a career path for me. He mentored me for 12 years, and that really stood out for me in my career, so I wanted to give back.

When I was qualifying for my CISSP, I was the only female in the room, and some male colleagues wouldn’t speak to me. So, I wanted to help other women and make sure that they would be ready to tackle these challenges.

Balance and diversity are what makes a powerful and successful team, so there’s a role for everyone in cybersecurity.

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