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Women in Tech: Cyber’s gender crisis

PUBLISHED: 08:00 08 March 2019 | UPDATED: 09:09 08 March 2019

What can we do to get more women into cyber security?

What can we do to get more women into cyber security?

PA Archive/PA Images

In the space of time it will take you to read this article, three small businesses in the UK will suffer a cyber breach.

Nicky Lawlor. Picture: CyberfenNicky Lawlor. Picture: Cyberfen

Across the country, 65,000 attacks are launched solely on small businesses every day – and that’s before you add in the figures on personal and big business account hacks.

But for every woman who has her iCloud account abused, for every female executive whose reputation is damaged in seconds, there are only 11% of women in the cyber security workforce working to change this.

MORE: Women in Tech: What is a techie?

Deborah Cubbin. Picture: CyberfenDeborah Cubbin. Picture: Cyberfen

It’s the reason why the likes of British spy agency GCHQ have launched all-female classes, and why female ethical hacking societies are being established across the country.

Cyberfen founders Deborah Cubbin and Nicky Lawlor are both passionate advocates for getting women into the cyber security industry.

“The problem is perception,” said Ms Cubbin. “We think of ethical hacking, and we think about teenagers in dark rooms wearing hoodies. Girls don’t want to think about that as a career option, and looking at such a male-dominated industry, you can see why they think that.”

Ms Lawlor said: “If you organise a hackathon event with a school, you can guarantee the first 50 pupils to sign up will be boys.

“Girls feel like they need to elbow their way in. One thing to do would be to keep back a certain amount of places at cyber events that have to be filled by girls – and we’re starting to see that. Whether positive discrimination is a good thing, I’m not sure, but we have to start getting women into the industry somehow.”

The issue is being addressed at government level, with the National Security Strategy outlining the situation is “verging on a crisis”.

In the report, Ruth Davis, head of commercial strategy and public policy at BT Security describes the situation as “pretty dire”, emphasising that greater diversity would create a stronger team.

Ms Cubbin said: “We’ll be sitting in meetings and the men around the table will be racing ahead. We’ll sit back and ask: ‘Why?’

“It’s also helpful to have more women on the team because often we tap into each other’s thinking more quickly and can articulate the process better.”

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