In July 2023, Cyber Innovation Hub had the privilege of hosting a meeting of the Wales Women in Cyber group led by Dr Clare Johnson from ITSUS Consulting.
During this meeting, Dr Cherdantseva who is the Director of the Academic Centre of Excellence for Cyber Security Education at Cardiff University and the Engagement & Outreach lead at the Cyber Innovation Hub, ran a focus group with an open discussion about how CIH could better support women in cyber and more generally about the challenges that women face in cyber security.
In this article, we discuss the challenges that were flagged up during the focus group and report on the actions that are planned in response to the issues identified. We hope that this discussion will help other communities to understand where they can better support women working in the sector, as well as recognising the benefits that having a diverse workforce can bring to an organisation. These include increased turnover and profitability, improved decision making and performance as well as being more attractive to new talent and encouraging greater innovation.
The Women in Cyber network (www.womenincyber.wales) was founded in 2018 by Dr Clare Johnson in response to a visible lack of women in the sector. The aim of the group is to support women by showcasing the wide variety of careers that they successfully hold and by providing an opportunity for women to network with each other and establish connections. It also provides a source of advice and information to organisations and individuals.
Cyber Innovation Hub (CIH) – www.cyberinnovationhub.wales – is a new initiative in Wales with a mission to transform South Wales into a leading cyber security cluster by 2030. The CIH is funded by the Welsh Government and Cardiff Capital Region. It aims to create 25+ new cyber start-ups in the region via effective business incubation and to upskill/reskill over 1500 individuals in cyber security by providing affordable hand-on skills training programmes at different levels of complexity.
Identified Needs and Challenges
A number of themes emerged from the discussions in the focus group:
- While there are options for upskilling in cyber, it is very challenging for women to get onto these courses for various reasons, including numerous restrictions on who and when can enter, complicated and time-consuming application processes, inconvenient delivery set-ups which do not accounting for parental and careering responsibilities;.
- The lack of accessible, introductory material about careers in cyber security , helping to navigate the various pathways into and within the sector;
- The mapping of certifications into various roles is lacking making it challenging to choose the best certification for a selected career path;
- Confusing use of acronyms in cyber job descriptions prevents women from considering or applying for roles;
- Women are less comfortable studying technical content with men as they feel intimated by them (this is supported by research which showed that even at school level, girls perform better if they are in girls-only groups);
- The cyber industry is not inclusive which results in poor retention of female experts, e.g. support for carers and working mothers is not provided.
- Women often face discrimination in the workplace including discriminatory comments (e.g. references to ‘those days’ in heated work discussions which immediately takes attention from the essence of the argument).
- Support is needed not only with domain skills, but also with career development, transferable skills, interview skills, better understanding of the sector and careers paths, networking and connections in the sector.
Our Response and Planned Activities
The results of the workshop and feedback from the community fed into the CIH Outreach and Engagement strategy, and informed our work on widening participation in cyber security. The comments have also been shared with the relevant departments in the Welsh Government.
In terms of immediate actions in response to the feedback from the Women in Cyber group focus group, the CIH is organising a number of events including a Women in tech & cyber social event on 6th Dec, and a career development day in Spring 2024 which will aim to address some of the gaps in the provision of cyber training in the region highlighted by the Women in Cyber group. If you interested in attending these events, please send your details to [email protected].
If you would like to get involved in the Women in Cyber network, please visit out website at www.womenincyber.wales or contact Clare directly on [email protected]. You can also follow us on Twitter @womencyberwales.
 KPMG, 2022, ‘Inclusion, Diversity and Equity’