How to address the diversity gap in cybersecurity, and why it matters

Despite numerous initiatives designed to attract new blood to the world of technology, cybersecurity is still embroiled in a war for talent

Arguably, this talent crunch boils down to a number of things, in particular the cybersecurity industry being seen as ‘intimidating’. I myself, after 20 years of experience working in technology, had to overcome this apprehension before throwing myself into it.  

A recent report by the ISACA found that 63% of cybersecurity professionals have unfilled positions in their teams. And unfortunately, this lack of human capital is not the only issue plaguing IT recruiters, they’re also contending with diversity levels falling seriously behind other industries in the UK (women make up 49% of the workforce in the UK, but a meager 19% of tech workers are female). By taking a proactive approach to hiring diverse talent, not only do we open up the pool of potential candidates, but we broaden the skills and experience they bring with them and make the entire industry less ‘intimidating’. Here are three things leaders should consider when hiring for their IT teams.   

Recruitment strategies  

Whilst quotas can be useful leverage in attracting the talent you want, they run the risk of being a surface level solution. Rather than being driven by a genuine desire to diversify, they often become an exercise of compliance for senior leadership teams chasing cosmetic diversity at the cost of retention and candidate’s unique qualities. There are better ways to encourage the applicants you want to apply, and to help them through the selection process. I learned to appreciate simple web tools that help hiring managers diversify language in job postings – avoiding gender coded words that could deter applicants; ‘principle’, ‘dominant’ and ‘competitive’ for example – or anonymise applications all together. Both are tried and tested methods that have allowed diverse candidates to get their foot through the door, beginning that all important internal rework.  

From the top 

Recruitment is the surefire solution to diversifying your team, but to truly address the problem, businesses need to look inward and upward to those at the top of their organisation. Is leadership genuinely committed to bringing perspectives into the boardrooms that differ from their own? Does junior talent have role models that demonstrate their potential career progression? Are there mentors and coaches who can act as sounding boards for upcoming leaders to get impartial advice in moments of insecurity and (self) doubt? As an industry, IT places so much onus on encouraging STEM in younger generations, particularly in females, but the real glass ceiling lies between middle management and the boardroom. Diversification doesn’t end when you make a hire. Mechanisms to champion, mentor and develop this talent must be established to ensure that you recognise those doing the heavy lifting, rather than the most dominant voice. We need to begin by supporting mid-level progression, recognising potential within existing team members. The push for change starts at home!  

Diversity of thought 

It’s also worth diving into “diversity of thought”. It’s important we recognise that true value stems from bringing together potentially opposing perspectives. For me, when building teams to solve  

critical problems or make key decisions, that spectrum of perspectives and diversity of thought is crucial. Sometimes, when in a heated discussion, I catch myself (internally) shaking my head over a comment I disagree with. However, I know that this means someone with a different perspective is opening up to me. I am continually working to remind myself of this, as awareness comes with intention, and intention leads to action.  

Diverse perspectives can be an incredibly valuable strategic tool, bringing a fresh approach to lateral thinking, pattern matching and problem solving. I’ve seen first hand how different perspectives gelling together can create dynamic solutions, particularly as part of scrum teams. Bringing together employees of all levels, from all parts of an organisation to tackle one problem is often the best way to reach a solution, and it works even better when diversity is ingrained at the employee level. It’s important to remember that everyone has a strength, and everyone has a challenge, and those combinations are what make a team truly dynamic. It’s important to remember that as a leader, your role is to keep a finger on the pulse, and enact positive intervention when conflicts in the team are brewing. 

What does this all mean for your business? 

When undertaking the transformative exercise of ingraining diversity into your operation, it’s important to remember that the process is holistic. Culture starts with leaders, and the phrase ‘do as you say, and say as you do’ holds true. Harness different views and perspectives to your organisation’s advantage, and create an environment where those views are heard. As leaders and decision makers, let’s have clear and honest discussions about the needs of the team. Ask whether you are taking care to actively seek the views of everyone at the table, or do the louder voices dominate. Do you acknowledge the collaborative process behind strategy execution, or is the focus solely on the end goal? As leaders, we must recognise that diversity is critical to operational success, and that the change has to start with us. 

About the Author

Ilona Simpson is CIO EMEA of Netskope. With over 20 years’ experience leading technology strategies for major global organisations including Porsche, DHL, Aston Martin, innogy (EON) and adidas, Ilona is now tackling cybersecurity with Netskope, a global leader in cloud security. Ilona is an active member of a number of a number of technology and industry advisory boards, as well as volunteering as a mentor to early stage start-ups. She holds an MBA from IESE Business School, where she is a guest lecturer on technology and business. She was named one of four women to make waves in IoT by Silicon Republic in 2016. In 2021, Constellation Research named Simpson a member of the Business Transformation 150, an elite list that recognises the top global executives leading business transformation efforts in their organizations.

Featured image: ©SeventyFour

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