IWD2019: cyber experts and the talent gap

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When I was younger, I used to love watching science fiction after school. I was curious about the prospect of things like time travel and how that might be possible. But it was by accident I fell into computer science. 

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A counsellor at Melbourne University explained I needed another subject and suggested computer science. I wasn’t sure what that meant but being adventurous I thought I’d give it a go.

"What cyber security experts do is so important and underpins so much of what's happening in the world.”

I just loved it. Everything from programming a model train set to writing computer games - I never imagined studying could be such fun. It explained how different parts of the world worked, parts I didn't even know about before.

Working in technology and then moving into a specialisation in security has been wonderful. What cyber security experts do is so important and underpins so much of what's happening in the world: how people communicate, how businesses grow, how families work and interact with each other online.

Cyber security is about all of us yet women currently represent only 20 per cent of the cyber security workforce worldwide (in Australia this is estimated to be slightly higher at 25 per cent). This is cause for alarm because it’s a key factor in the massive talent shortage in this crucially important field.

I’m pleased to say heightened awareness on the topic - led by numerous women in cyber associations and initiatives - has helped move the needle in a positive direction but the challenge persists.  

The reasons women don’t enter cyber security are varied - from the perception it’s a male-dominated field, to the lack of female role models to the struggle within our educational system to overcome stereotypes questioning women’s abilities to excel in the sciences.

The industry is absolutely missing out by not having women involved. Without women pursuing careers in cyber security, almost half of the population’s talent pool is missing during a period in history when cybercrime poses one of our most menacing threats.

Closing the gap

The Australian Computing Academy (ACA), a University of Sydney centre, has launched the Schools Cyber Security Challenges, a $AU1.35 million national program which will see cyber security taught to Year 7-10 students for the first time in Australia.

The program aims to close the growing gap in cyber security awareness and skills amongst Australian students.

The Challenges are the first cross-industry coalition of the kind in Australia, with the ACA spearheading a unique collaborative effort with ANZ, the Australian Cyber Security Growth Network,  Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, Westpac and British Telecom. The Challenges have been developed and designed with the input of their security experts.

The Cyber Challenge provides an opportunity to build greater curiosity and passion for cybersecurity among young Australians, particularly females.

Through greater education, I am confident we can alter the perception of technology stereotypes among young females by encouraging them to develop and become more confident in their skills while showcasing the genuine career opportunities available to them.

Just as there are many reasons why women haven’t yet joined the cyber security field, there are many reasons why they should.

In addition to the simple economics - like good job security and a competitive wage - the cybersecurity industry has a need for more workers and more women in particular. It’s a great avenue to explore for any applicant with a background in IT or mathematics or someone who is simply interested in building more experience in that field.

The need is great, the jobs are there and women need to be in the forefront for the industry to move forward. And to pave the way for other women who may have a passion or interest for the field.

Most importantly, cyber security is critical to the overall safety and security of our country – creating an opportunity to make a real impact by protecting the data, assets, and intellectual property of governments, corporations and individuals.

Digital technology and innovation is changing the world and cyber security is what enables these changes that connect us socially and provide incredible opportunities for business growth and solving world problems.

Lynwen Connick is Chief Information Security Officer at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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