With 89% of today’s top Cyber Security leaders being male, and traditionally Caucasian, the issue of Diversity, or lack thereof, is a topic that demands significant attention, especially when compared to more diversity-friendly industries like healthcare and teaching, both of which boasting figures above 50% in various diversity categories. Jasvinder Pham, Information and Cyber Security Manager for High Speed Two caught up with Cyber Insider to talk about how the Cyber Security industry should address the lack of diversity, and how the Cyber Security sphere can be re-imagined as an equal opportunities sector.
Under-representation of any demographic of the population, while commonplace among a range of industries and job roles only places limitations on the talent available to that profession. Talent is evenly distributed, and so too should opportunities – with over one million Cyber Security jobs to be filled, a diversity-averse industry faces a serious shortage of qualified personnel. As a woman of ethnic minority, Jasvinder is well placed to detect issues relating to diversity. A great litmus test for organisation demographics is the coming together of people at major industry events, and in her experience, she does notice a stark lack of diversity at the events she has attended in the past. Jasvinder also notices the ramifications of the industry’s stance on diversity in her work life, and draws attention to the reactions of people to her position as the manager of several male Cyber Security professionals, adding that upon this revelation, “the dynamics change instantly”. An employee from the National Cyber Security Centre agreed with the existence of such prejudices, “Challenging stereotypes is a big part of what we do – questioning what a technical person looks like. I mentored a female apprentice who said she felt out of place because everyone was male and they lived and breathed tech in their private lives”
Effecting change and positively impacting this somewhat discomforting industry norm is proving to be far from easy. Jasvinder cautions that “I don’t think things are changing fast enough”. Offering solutions to address the lack of diversity in Cyber Security, Jasvinder looks to education, placing the onus on schools to, as she puts it, “get girls and other minorities into STEM subjects at a young age”. STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) subjects have historically faced significant problems with attracting a diverse workforce, and it is perhaps this stigma of a diversity-lacking industry, expounded over time by the numerical accuracy of such a view that discourages involvement of minorities in a field now viewed as the reserve of “old white men with technical backgrounds”. If this is the case, as Jasvinder suggests, progress can only be made by challenging, and eventually breaking this stigma.
Offering advice to those of a minority background, Jasvinder’s support was twofold – firstly, encouragement for the individual to get involved, and to challenge the problem head on, as she herself has. “I think getting involved in Government activities, as well as Corporate companies that give women and minority groups access to information and Cyber Security placements is a start”. The National Cyber Security Centre for example has made great strides in attempting to increase the level of diversity in their staff, with a push to remove the barriers preventing success for people from all backgrounds. For Jasvinder, support starts at home, so Jasvinder extended a personal touch of support, suggesting the support network for minorities interested in Cyber is there, if you look for it – “For example, I’m available to mentor those from a minority background, I just need to be approached”. While the lack of diversity in Cyber Security has been entrenched in the industry since its inception, and thus is not a problem that can be effectively solved overnight, Jasvinder’s words of encouragement, combined with a slowly changing industry mindset towards the subject suggest that while progress may be slow at first, there is a growing place in in Cyber Security for people from all backgrounds.
Jasvinder will be interviewed by Babita Sharma from the BBC as part of the Hackchat, alongside Vicki Gavin from The Economist, at 10:15am, on the subject of “Fostering Diversity in the Cyber Security Industry“. She’ll also talk on Seminar Theatre 2 at 3:20pm on the topic of “Ensuring Cyber Security Culture in Complex Environments of Regular Change“.