Securing the future with a diverse cyber workforce

  • According to the latest research, women make up only 25 percent of the global cyber security workforce.
  • To engender a more diverse industry, women need female role models and inclusive networking opportunities.
  • A PwC program designed to promote diversity in cyber internally is now turning its sights on the rest of society, one client at a time.

The 4.19 million cyber security experts in the world are a varied bunch. According to the annual (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study 2021, they come from all walks of life and of varying backgrounds.1 Some are highly educated in formal settings, others are self taught. Around half have IT backgrounds, but increasingly they are coming in (particularly younger generations) from unrelated career fields. They are paid well, and most have at least a bachelor’s degree. They work for small businesses, big corporate firms, and everything in between.

But there’s one area where this non-homogenous bunch of professionals are lacking in differences: diversity. Overwhelmingly, the experts in the (ISC)2 study were male (76 percent) and caucasian (72 percent). When compared with previous years research and amended for biases towards job formality, the (ISC)2 estimates that the number of women in the cyber workforce globally to be around 25 percent. 

Given the benefits diversity brings to all workplaces, for instance in terms of greater revenue, better problem-solving, positive social responsibility metrics and innovation intensity, just to name a few, this is a concerning number. It’s time to do something about it — Digital Pulse talks to three of PwC Australia’s female cyber leaders to learn more about what the firm is doing and how a focus on role modelling, networking and recruitment can help make a difference.

Women in cyber 

The Women in Cyber & Tech program at PwC aims to inspire women to consider pursuing careers in cyber security by creating opportunities for all women at PwC to connect, network, and talk about things that are important from a female leadership perspective. This includes unconscious bias, negotiating pay, as well as providing the space to connect with other women who have gone through similar career paths, or have similar stories to share.

Mary Attard, a leader of the program in Australia and a partner in the Identity and Access Management team, sees the lack of diversity in the industry as not just a societal challenge, but a personal one. “We owe it to women that are either in the tech industry, or considering joining or studying it, to be a voice on why it’s incredible to work in this area.” 

And it has to be inclusive, because, being a ‘tech person’ has changed significantly over the years, and the prerequisite to roles in this space — as evidenced in the (ISC)2 survey — has changed dramatically too.

“You don’t have to be fascinated by the specifics of technology. It’s about people”, says Wyrdeman. “For me, it’s about wanting to know the ‘why’ in things. Technology happens to be where the growth is, where the innovation is, and where it’s exciting.”

The role of role models

Attard believes that one of the many problems to be tackled when it comes to gender diversity in cyber is the lack of female role models. This potential barrier to women considering a career in technology is not just a recruitment issue, it’s a personal one, “as a woman working in technology, it’s my responsibility to role model and advocate for the amazing opportunities and career experiences in this space.”

Wyrdeman agrees. Reflecting on her own career path, she believes there has been a welcome shift in leadership from women in the industry, particularly over the past five years. But with support from fellow female leaders and mentors, she has been able to step up and “confidently stand in her leadership role as a woman, knowing she can.” 

For the past five years, her own positive role modelling has helped improve the recruitment outcomes for women in the sector, as well as meet market demand for new talent in the industry. 

There is still more to be done, of course. Richa Arora, who leads PwC’s cyber practice nationally for healthcare, believes women are ready to step up. “We want to be able to help each other,” says Arora. “It’s important to feel that you can approach any senior leader, and ask for advice and guidance. Just as I would have asked my mentors”. 

The importance of networking

In welcoming women to the possibilities of a career in technology, all three believe it is important to create a new, more inclusive landscape for networking in order to have a positive impact on the industry.

Reflecting on a recent panel discussion during her interview, Arora mentions that, “networking opportunities are different for women, compared to men. ” 

Panellists had commented during the discussion that they felt male colleagues would generally feel more comfortable asking a female colleague out for a coffee, and a male colleague out for a drink. 

It was recognised that situations like this can result in people being inadvertently excluded from key networking opportunities. Arora feels that creating new, more inclusive networking strategies is essential to building stronger connections across the board, and opportunities for the industry. 

Attard agrees. “There are many different career paths into technology, and we all come with a very different skill set. Inclusive networking is important to understanding what drives the individual and what impact they can make in the team,” she says.

The talent in the pool

The success of the Women in Cyber & Tech program means PwC is now looking to expand beyond internal walls, into client networking and university partnerships. “We’re starting to see some really valuable, good people in senior places that we can look up to. I’m trying to be one of those people, because if you can see it, you can be it,” says Wyrdeman. 

Attard describes how the internal team affects the external client relationship. “It’s about connecting the dots, ideas, and people and making sure that tech isn’t the first thing we lead with.” The team at PwC’s cyber security and Digital Trust practice lead with a problem lens, driven by the curiosity of their people, to reframe problems in unexpected ways. 

From a recruitment perspective, it’s proven essential to employ varied people, all with business skills and curious minds to see the bigger picture, and who are capable of connecting these dots. 

It’s not only good social sense to encourage women into the industry, it’s good economic sense too. “The issue is that we don’t have enough people to do the work that needs to be done. If only 10 percent of the people doing that work at the moment are women, we’re missing out on a huge part of the potential talent pool.”

Just the beginning

Because cyber security intersects with everything else, the expertise required must be diverse too. It’s time to welcome more unique capabilities and perspectives into the industry. 

The team all agree that by empowering female voices, women around the world will know that not only is there a place for them in technology, but that cyber needs their unique perspectives. The Women in Cyber & Tech program may only be a small step in that direction, but it’s having a large and important impact.

For more insights on how PwC's community of solvers are coming together in unexpected ways where human meets digital, visit PwC Australia’s consulting page.