Ilijana Vavan, Managing Director at Kaspersky Lab: International Women’s Day centres around the theme of #BalanceforBetter. I am thoroughly behind this message as I think it’s particularly adept in my industry – cybersecurity.
The question of gender imbalance in the industry has never been more important we see increasing calls from all over for more women to be part of our incredible industry, one that currently lacks a high proportion of female talent. Estimates suggest that nearly 90 per cent of the cyber security workforce is male and research Kaspersky undertook earlier this year found that in the IT industry in general, half of respondents reported working in majority male teams, six times the number that work in a mainly female team (7 per cent).
Growing up in Yugoslavia, a passion for, and career in, computing was no strange thing for a woman. In my university, 70 per cent of my computing course was female and this was the norm as women in Eastern Europe had always been encouraged to pursue technical careers. When I moved to the Western Europe to complete my masters, that number became just 7 per cent – a real culture shock – and I began my career in programming as one of very few women. Moving into a customer facing, pre-sales 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 and I built up some strong commercial relationships because of this.
Now, I want more women to see that a technical career, and especially one in cybersecurity, is rewarding and worth pursuing, but, I also want to make sure the environment they’re coming into is welcoming and supportive. At Kaspersky, we are proud of the many women who contribute to our mission, from the second in command of sales to those working on the frontline to protect against cyberthreats in the research and development teams. 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, but that the industry benefits from a more diverse workforce. In my conversations with Jane Frankland, author of INSecurity and an advocate for women in cyber security, we have discussed that women bring a different approach to threat and risk that really benefits creating a more secure online world.
The solutions to bridging the divide are not difficult ones, earlier this year we asked women in the industry already what they think the answer is. 40% of female IT decision makers believe that the government and universities should drive incentives to attract girls and women into a future career in tech but 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, 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. We have signed up to PwC’s Tech She Can charter to encourage more young girls into tech careers, we supported Girls in Tech’s AMPLIFY competition that gives tech start-ups run by women a chance to grow. We also introduced our own Women’s Network, currently piloting 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 introduction to cyber workshops to give young people a glimpse into what a career in this industry involves and give them the chance 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.