The right balance: Enabling women to pursue a career in IT

This year’s International Women’s Day is all about balance, as we see in the related hashtag #BalanceforBetter, so let us aim to encourage more women to enter the tech and cybersecurity sector.

This year, International Women’s Day centers around the theme of #BalanceforBetter, a message I think is particularly apt in my industry, cybersecurity.

The hashtag is a shortened version of the sentiment, “Better the balance, better the world,” and indeed, issues of gender imbalance in the industry have never been more important. Cybersecurity currently lacks a high proportion of female talent, with estimates suggesting nearly 90% of the workforce is male. Research Kaspersky Lab undertook earlier this year found that in the IT industry in general, half of respondents reported working on majority-male teams, six times the number who work on a team that is mainly female.

I grew up in Yugoslavia, where a passion for, and career in, computing was not unusual for a woman. At university, 70% of my computing course was female — and that was the norm; women in Eastern Europe had always been encouraged to pursue technical careers. When I moved to Western Europe to complete my masters, that number became just 7% — a real culture shock — and I began my career in programming among very few women. Moving into a customer-facing, presales role, I stood out as a young woman dressed in a bright outfit in a sea of black suits. However, I used this to my advantage, knowing that I would at least be remembered for being different, which helped me build some strong commercial relationships.

Now, I want more women to see that a technical career, and especially one in cybersecurity, is rewarding and worth pursuing. At the same time, I also want to make sure the environment they’re coming into is welcoming and supportive.

At Kaspersky Lab, we are proud of the many women who contribute to our mission, from the second-in-command of sales to those working on the research and development teams to protect against cyberthreats. But we want to do more. We want more enthusiastic and driven women to join our teams and help us save the world by bringing different experiences and viewpoints to the task. It’s not just that a career in this industry benefits women; the industry benefits from a more diverse workforce.

In my conversations with Jane Frankland, author of InSecurity: Why a Failure to Attract and Retain Women in Cybersecurity is Making Us All Less Safe and an advocate for women in cybersecurity, we discussed the ways women bring a different approach to threat and risk issues that really helps create a more secure online world.

The solutions to bridging the divide are not difficult ones. Earlier this year, we asked women already in the industry what they think the answer is. Of female IT decision-makers, 40% believe the government and universities should drive incentives to attract girls and women into a future career in tech, but that companies such as Kaspersky can also take action by supporting these wider initiatives and breaking down both real and perceived barriers to entry.

At Kaspersky Lab, we take the view that we always want the best person for the job, no matter the gender, and hire everyone on that basis. That said, we know more needs to be done to encourage and support women in our industry, so in the past year, we have taken more steps than ever before to tackle the gender imbalance and help make cybersecurity a more welcoming environment for women. Therefore, we signed up with PwC’s Tech She Can charter to encourage more young girls enter tech careers, and we supported Girls in Tech’s AMPLIFY competition, which gives tech start-ups run by women a chance to grow. We also introduced our own Women’s Network, currently a pilot in the UK, to engage our existing women with the wider industry. This year, we are committing to making internships more accessible to a wider audience and promoting introductory workshops to give young people a glimpse into what a career in this industry involves and provide opportunities to meet mentors and experts to help them get started.

Our approach is very much about taking action to achieve balance and a more effective workforce — we don’t need any more discussion around the issue; we need to get on with the job of creating a more diverse, more secure industry.