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Why We Need More Women Leaders in Cybersecurity

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Numerous studies have shown that diversity at the workplace not only improves the work culture but has a direct impact on the profitability and productivity of a company. Unfortunately, the entire tech industry, even though widely perceived as progressive and forward-thinking with a lot of buzz around diversity and inclusion, remains a male-dominated profession. Take for example, the cybersecurity sector that is already struggling to fill millions of vacancies have seen a huge gender gap, as a new (ISC)2 study states, the global cyber workforce would need to grow more than 145% to meet the job market’s demand. Experts believe, global security will suffer if greater diversity is not brought to solving the complex cyber challenges ahead.

Deepa Seshadri, Partner, Deloitte India
Deepa Seshadri, Partner, Deloitte India

In a recent conversation with CXOToday, Deepa Seshadri, Partner, Deloitte India, says,No longer can businesses afford to be attuned to be gender biased and so a much diverse talent set needs to be the priority of an organization.”

Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that women will hold 25% of cybersecurity jobs globally by the end of 2021. Seshadri says, “The instinct that women inherently possess and the diligence with which they approach problems make them a great fit for cybersecurity. It is a known fact that the gender diversity in leadership roles in technology thins as the seniority goes up, just like the density of air. This needs to change at an organization and policy level.”

Seshadri discusses at length the current trends and challenges of gender gap in cybersecurity and how the industry could motivate more women leaders to join the sector. Excerpts.

While there’s already a scarcity of cyber security professionals in the industry, there is also an urgent need to reduce the gender gap between professionals. What are your views on this?

That’s a great opportunity, if you ask me. The technology landscape is rife with examples of lack of gender parity. Traditional setup in technology roles was heavily biased against women owing to lesser number of women getting into the technical workforce. We’re not even talking about gender bias in the workplace in this scenario, that came in later. The technologies that came with this traditional baggage required a lot of work on the gender parity front from the organizations. In case of cybersecurity, it’s like a fresh start. Gender parity is not an afterthought but a part of the initial ethos. That is a huge opportunity for women to consider cybersecurity as a field of work. When you have a level playing field as the core ethos of a business function right from inception, it brings in quality talent.

 How would you describe the opportunities for women leaders in cybersecurity today? Has remote work created any impact on women in cybersecurity?

Absolutely! Remote work has provided the flexibility that women require to balance the various roles that they play in their lives. Earlier, certain roles in cyber security were always performed onsite (such as Monitoring from Security Operations Center). This required professional to be onsite and work in shifts. But that Is no longer true.

Along with the benefits, the focus must be on mental well-being. The managers and the HR personnel need to be cognizant of the fact that work spilling over to personal time is a major repercussion of working remotely in times of the pandemic. Another aspect is a toxic environment at home. Not many talk about it but I’ve read about many women for whom going to the office was a life-saver because they felt safe there. The opportunities for women leaders in cybersecurity are the same as for men. That’s a big step-up from earlier times. I would love to see more women in cybersecurity and for them to move into leadership roles.

What do you see as the biggest hurdle that needs to be overcome in order for more women to pursue this career path?

tech firmsThe biggest hurdle is the balancing act. You can’t tell a mother that she must choose between taking care of her daughter and her professional career – that’s just not done! I am the proud mother of a teenage daughter, and the balancing act becomes easier with the help from immediate family.
Unlike most of the other technologies, cybersecurity is a proactive field of work. You don’t want to get into a huddle when there’s a breach, you get into a huddle, many of them, to ensure that there’s no breach. You need to be on top of your game and educate yourself every day – let’s add this to that balancing act!
Add the perception aspect to it and you have an interesting mix of things that women must balance and counter. You know – women can’t drive, women should do only this and not that, women can’t devote time to work because they have personal responsibilities – we’ve all heard many such things. It’s not just a corporate issue – it’s a mindset issue.

According to your experience, do you think that women CXOs have to prove twice as much as men so that our opinion is taken into account when carrying out technical careers such as cybersecurity?

No, women don’t have to prove twice as much as men, but they must expend their energy in decimating perceptions. The corporate setups are moving towards a more gender-neutral approach and they are succeeding. One peeve that I’ve heard of is the out-of-turn promotions as a part of the gender-neutral policy. I think it should be considered as a one-off and women need to move on from there, without any such expectation later. When we talk about a level-playing field, it means that the person putting in their 100% in their work must get rewarded for it equally.

What kinds of obstacles have you encountered in your years as a professional to get where you are?

Learning to prioritize my professional life over my personal life and vice-versa was the most difficult obstacle that I had to figure out to get over. If there was an important business meeting that coincided with my kid’s recital, I had colleagues who would step in for me for the meeting. I would say that the support from my family and colleagues has been a major factor in helping overcome such obstacles. They might appear trivial to someone, but they aren’t. Having encountered obstacles which emanated from someone else’s personal biases based on their way of working, I’ve realized that they usually must be ignored, for there are better things to be achieved in life.

What does it take to have more women in cybersecurity leadership roles?

cybersecurity trainingIt’s a great time to have more women in cybersecurity leadership roles. Like I had mentioned, the industry is still in a nascent stage and with the numerous skilling opportunities available through learning forums and certifications, women can easily balance their upskilling programs and personal work. Cyber Shiksha, the cybersecurity skilling program by Data Security Council of India, is an exclusive program for women who want to skill themselves up in cybersecurity.

Let’s take the case of women returning to work after a break. Many women in senior roles take a break from their professional career to help a kid with their education, to take care of ailing parents, or just some time off. They already have the interpersonal and leadership skills and it’s much easier for them to pivot to cybersecurity.

I would love to see more women leaders in cybersecurity and not just because there are lesser women up here, but because the opportunities exist. I continuously mentor women technologists in middle-management and the quality of talent that organizations have, it’s just a matter of time before we see women cybersecurity leaders in the boardroom.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at sohini.bagchi@trivone.com