Differing motivational factors, female mentorship and activities that aid career advancement were some of the key findings in a new report looking into the underrepresentation of women in the cyber security landscape.
This is according to a new report by RMIT’s Centre for Cyber Security Research and Innovation (CCSRI), which highlighted the stark underrepresentation of women in the cyber security workforce.
Revealed by Minister for Cyber Security Clare O’Neil, Gender Dimensions of the Australian Cyber Security Sector is the first in-depth look into the industry’s gender make-up, where according to the 2021 Census data, women only represented 17 per cent of the cyber security workforce.
O’Neil said the report provides insights into the lack of female role models and other barriers to women’s representation in our cyber security sector, based on research that has been lacking in Australia until now.
“Its recommendations can help put us on the path to achieving gender equity in the sector – without which, we won’t be able to achieve our true cyber security potential,” said O’Neil.
Some of the key findings from the report point out a fourfold increase in the number of females in specialist ICT security roles from 2016 to 2021, compared to a threefold increase for males.
More than 50 per cent of female respondents were strongly motivated to join the sector to make a difference in society, compared to 44 per cent of male respondents.
About half the female cyber security professional respondents had IT qualifications, compared to two-thirds of male cyber security professionals.
Only 27 per cent of women working in the sector reported having a role model or mentor of the same gender, compared to over 50 per cent of men who reported having a male equivalent.
CCSRI director Matt Warren said the wider spectrum of educational backgrounds and motivations brought by females were valuable for diverse approaches to problem solving, however the low level of women’s participation means the sector is still not operating at its full potential.
“Despite the rapid expansion of the cyber security workforce, the sector is characterised by a stark under representation of women,” Warren said.
“To achieve gender equity in the industry we need to understand the factors that deter women from joining or cause them to leave the sector and commit to fostering a workforce culture that embraces diversity as a strength.”
The report also laid out key recommendations which includes focusing on improving gender equity, diversity and inclusion policies and programs that target workforce culture and organisational practices; set clear goals and targets to deliver meaningful change; eliminate toxic work cultures and adopt a positive duty of care; develop and maintain safe workplaces and conduct an internal gender pay gap audit.
Australian Women in Security Network (AWSN) founder and executive director Jacqui Loustau said to accelerate the number of women entering, excelling and leading in the industry, organisations need to understand the current barriers and draw on learnings from other industries and countries.
“Although there has been progress in the number of women entering security over the years, it’s not fast enough,” she said.
“To protect all Australians, the security workforce needs all types of people thinking innovatively, stopping threats and advocating for security.
“This report will lead the way in what we can do more effectively to attract and retain a more diverse workforce for generations to come.”
The study was undertaken by RMIT’s CCSRI in partnership with the AWSN with the objective to obtain a set of benchmark data on where Australia stands in terms of women working in security, that can be referenced and tracked across the industry as it grows.
The AWSN’s involvement in the study was facilitated through sponsorship support by the Australian Signals Directorate.