This month is Black History Month, and following on from our Ethnic Minorities in Cyber Symposium, we look at what the cyber security sector needs to do to increase diversity.
Picture a cyber professional. What do they look like? What is their gender, age, ethnicity? When we look online for images of cyber professionals, again and again we’re presented with the same kind of person, and that’s something we want to change.
This outdated image and stereotype can become a barrier which inhibits individuals from exploring a career in cyber. As the voice of the UK’s cyber security industry, the UK Cyber Security Council must challenge this and work to make cyber an attractive and accessible industry for underrepresented groups from diverse backgrounds.
This month we hosted our Ethnic Minorities in Cyber Symposium, and alongside inspirational talks from speakers within the sector, both professional and academic, we hosted various workshops looking at how we all have a responsibility to increase diversity within cyber, and the steps we need to take to do so.
A recent labour market report from the UK government found the UK’s cyber sector is facing a workforce gap of 14,100 people each year, presenting a brilliant opportunity to upskill people from a diverse range of backgrounds to meet the cyber security needs of businesses across the UK.
A glance around the room at our recent EMiC (Ethnic Minorities in Cyber) event would indicate that progress is being made to break down the barriers to cyber for people from ethnic minority backgrounds. But it is without doubt that more must be done to improve diversity in cyber and address the dramatic skills gap the industry is experiencing.
An important driver of diversity is to have a diverse intake across entry routes. The majority of entrants to the cyber industry come through career change or redirection, with just 3% entering via a school leaver or apprenticeship scheme, and 12% via a graduate scheme. Rather than allowing the mystique around cyber security to become a barrier to ethnic diversity within the industry, there is an education piece to perform here on our part. So when presented with the prospect of a future in cyber, school and university leavers have a clearer understanding of what this looks like and the possibilities it brings.
In terms of gender diversity, the male to female ratio in the industry sits at around 36% female to 64% male. Although this is an improvement on previous years, it still has potential to improve further. The stereotype that STEM is better suited to men seems to persist, despite the fact that women consistently score as well or better in maths and science-related tests. With that in mind, it’s clear there is still important work for the sector as a whole to undertake to break down perceived barriers to entry for women.
Stemming from this need for diverse skills and ways of thinking, embracing neurodiversity is another way in which the cyber industry can become more inclusive and benefit from broadening its pool of talent. Thinking and processing information in a range of different ways with a neurodiverse workforce can be extremely beneficial in a cyber security setting, enabling new perspectives and insights to be brought forward. However, often such professionals cannot be found via traditional recruitment methods. It is our responsibility to make the cyber recruitment process open, flexible and welcoming, and to ensure that all employees across all areas of diversity feel heard, valued and confident to grow and progress in the cyber industry.
Driving change within the profession must be a collective effort. If we are to deliver positive change, we must unite and continue challenging stereotypes, preconceived ideas and bias, and carefully consider our behaviours, practices and assumptions in the workplace.
We look forward to a time when this blog doesn’t need to be written, when diversity is ‘business as usual’ and not an exception. But until we reach that point, we need to take every opportunity we get to raise awareness of diversity in cyber, break down barriers and present cyber as an accessible and exciting opportunity for people to flourish.
A more diverse and inclusive team is a more innovative team, and with right mix of minds, anything is possible.