Are Women the Answer to Cybersecurity Skills Gap Dilemma?

Singapore has among the lowest shares of women who are technology majors in Southeast Asia, and yet, has a higher share of women (41%) working in technology, revealed a 2020 study involving six countries in the region.1 This is likely due to the booming tech sector in Singapore, which attracts women with a non-technology education background.

However, fewer women are in cybersecurity, resulting in a skills gap between genders in the sector. In fact, women account for only two out of 10 cybersecurity professionals worldwide, despite representing almost half of the global workforce.2 

The idea behind increasing gender diversity in the cybersecurity field is that women can contribute different perspectives based on their experiences, which can improve the creation and implementation of defensive software and protective methods, among others. But, for companies to start hiring more women by introducing better diversity policies, they must first understand what hinders women from seeking jobs in cybersecurity.

Where are the Women? 

There are several factors that discourage women from applying for jobs in cybersecurity, but it’s mainly due to perception and gender bias.3 

Few women choose to apply for cybersecurity positions because the media tends to portray cybersecurity as a gendered role. The typical depiction of a hacker is often a man in a black hoodie, wearing an Anonymous mask, and hunched over his laptop — implying that only men have the skill set needed for cybersecurity jobs.4 

And, men in cybersecurity are paid more than women to do the same job. The Exabeam Cybersecurity Professionals Salary, Skills and Stress Survey 2020 found that women in all countries surveyed, except Singapore, reported earning less than their male counterparts.5 This disparity between salaries deters women from applying for cybersecurity positions.

In a 2021 survey, girls and women in Singapore aged between 16 and 25 were quizzed on their likelihood of pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as well as their interest in studying subjects relevant to STEM.6 A majority said girls are less likely than boys to choose careers in STEM, with one of the top reasons cited being, they believe these jobs are male-dominated. And, one in three girls who have an interest in STEM often change their minds at the age of 15.

In terms of tertiary education, a 2022 study found that only 29% of information technology graduates in Singapore are women.7 Findings from the study indicated that gender-based differences in STEM-related attitudes and beliefs appear at a young age, and female participation in further STEM study tapers off at higher levels. 

Women in STEM often receive smaller research grants compared to their male counterparts, implying that they are not given as much recognition.8 And because fewer women opt to study and work in STEM, it perpetuates male-dominated cultures that are not supportive or attractive to women and minorities.9

Empowering Women to Close Skills Gap 

The skills gap among cybersecurity professionals contributed to 72% of data breaches in Asia, according to Fortinet’s 2022 Cybersecurity Skills Gap report.10 With low unemployment in the IT sector and Singapore’s tendency to rely on foreign talent, the sustainable solution is to upskill locals.11 This indicates an opening for women to pursue relevant qualifications so they can advance their cybersecurity careers.

With every attack, cybercriminals learn a little bit more about the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the defence systems in place. Over time and as the digital scape continues to grow with more data, it becomes easier for malicious hackers to compromise information security. Those interested in pursuing a career in cybersecurity need to upskill or reskill now to ensure virtual platforms can be defended against attacks in the future.

Empowering women to join STEM sectors, and especially the cybersecurity field, can help narrow the skills gap while ensuring female participation in this profession suitably increases. Nurturing the capabilities of women in cybersecurity will also aid in boosting the number of diverse minds from various backgrounds involved in the field, leading to more comprehensive defence strategies.

Ensuring Workplace Diversity

Another way to close the skills gap in the cybersecurity sector is by encouraging employees, especially women, to pursue a postgraduate course in cybersecurity. By furthering their education in cybersecurity, employees gain an edge over their peers, get the opportunity to widen their network to include field experts, and obtain knowledge about current developments in the industry.

At Singapore Institute of Management, our Graduate Certificate in Cybersecurity Management (E-Learning) teaches students to lead, analyse, and manage cybersecurity systems and processes to build resilient business ecosystems. With four comprehensive modules, students will learn to apply complex data-centred methodologies to develop and implement innovative solutions to modern cybersecurity challenges.

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