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Women Cyber security Leaders Must Dump the Boys’ Club Rule Book

Cyber security expert Arti Lalwani sheds light on the challenges and opportunities of being a woman in cyber security.

cyber security

Although the number of women in cyber security has increased over the past years, there is still a long way to go to achieve equal gender representation in the field, as a report by ISC suggests, women only account for 25% of the global cyber security workforce and although this is an increase from previous years, cyber security expert Arti Lalwani believes it’s not enough and wants to encourage women to pursue a career in cyber security.

In a recent interaction with CXOToday, Lalwani, who is currently Associate Director, ISO Markets and Accreditation at A-LIGN, a global provider of IT solutions and cyber security services, and all-around powerhouse that’s breaking barriers in a male-dominated industry, throws light on the challenges and opportunities of being a woman in cyber security.

Being a woman in cyber security, Lalwani had to work much harder to excel in her career, and now she not only determines the strategic direction of A-LIGN’s ISO practices, but she also manages a team of over 20 auditors that conduct management system compliance audits.

From the factors that lead to women being underrepresented in cyber security to removing those barriers, she discussed ways in which organizations can bridge the gender gap in the field.

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?

While I agree that men are over-represented in the cyber security industry, it is important for organizations to hire individuals that fit the position. Hiring managers should remain aware of the gender gap without directly focusing on the gap.

Most women will wait until they feel they are fully qualified for a position to even apply. Taking this into consideration along with a woman’s career potential will help hiring managers close the gender gap within their organizations. In my case, my confidence to undertake the role I was accepting was bolstered by my manager. He saw my potential to succeed in this role much more than I ever thought I would and I proved him right.

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

Many organizations based in the US have started positioning women in leadership roles, however women in executive positions are still extremely scarce.  According to Catalyst.org, in 2020, only 23% of executive positions were filled by women. This means that most of the time, an organization’s leadership team rarely has a woman.

Remote work has provided flexibility for women in the workforce and created the opportunity for real work-life balance. Take me as an example; the couple hours it would take me to get ready and travel to the office in the morning has been replaced with billable work time.

What is compelling is the fact that women with families and single mothers have a more equal platform in the industry thanks to the ability to work remotely. This flexibility levels the playing field and helps to reduce the gender wage gap, especially in areas of the country where wages are lower.

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

Women face a high barrier to entry when trying to break into the cyber security field, especially when without mentors and advocates to guide them and provide support. I believe that reflecting diversity in leadership teams and at educational institutions has the potential to contribute to more women pursuing a cyber security career path.  Furthermore, mentorship is a  critical support for women to forge a career in cyber security.

Honestly, if I tried to break into this industry as a fresh college graduate today, I don’t think I’d have nearly as much success without all the people who mentored me.

More broadly, cyber security has a lack of diversity of representation. This is coupled with unrealistic hiring expectations, like entry level roles that require ten years of experience and outdated certifications listed as qualifications. These unnecessary obstacles prevent a lot of people from considering a career in cyber security.

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 cyber security?

Absolutely, I believe not only do women have to prove themselves compared to their male counterparts, but minority women have to work even harder. In the cyber security industry, I believe men are often automatically handed respect while women have to prove their competence.

I have experienced this myself!  As a manager, when I have accompanied one of my employees or a male colleague on a client visit, I have had clients assume I was the assistant joining to take notes for that meeting.

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

While race, sex and age have all presented themselves as obstacles in my professional career, these experiences have taught me how be a better manager. I don’t want other women to encounter these issues any more than they have to.  I try to take an active role in mentoring other women and helping them navigate and rise above these obstacles. I want to help them focus on being valued for their contribution versus filling some company’s diversity quota.

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

Here are a few things that come immediately to mind:

  • Throwing out the boys club rule book.
  • Deepen hiring efforts to identify potential candidates apart from the usual qualification path.
  • Providing mentorship support at all levels of a woman’s career.
  • Providing flexibility for a woman to work remotely and maintain the family life they desire.

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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