Canadian Security Magazine

Cyber security needs more women

By Olivera Zatezalo   

Sponsored by Olivera Zatezalo

Image: metamorworks/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Cyber security is critically important to Canada’s economic growth. As telecom operators begin deploying 5G wireless technology, nearly every aspect of the modern Canadian economy will come to rely on broadband: intelligent cars, smart homes, innovative healthcare, and better connectivity for Canada’s far north.

That makes the shortage of cyber security professionals a growing challenge. A survey by the Toronto Financial Services Alliance (TFSA) and Deloitte shows demand for cyber security talent growing 7% a year, with 8,000 unfilled cyber security jobs forecast by 2021.

The problem is not limited to Canada. The world needs an estimated 3 million more cyber security professionals than it currently has. As it happens, there’s a large pool of untapped talent waiting to pick up the slack: women.

Historically underrepresented in the field, women make up roughly one-quarter (24%) of the world’s cyber security workforce, according to an April survey by (ISC)², a cybersecurity training company.


Yet although men outnumber women by three to one, women tend to have better credentials, and proportionately fill more leadership roles than men. For example, 52% of women surveyed held a post-graduate degree, versus 44% of men, while 7% of women occupied senior roles such as chief technology officer, a title held by only 2% of men.

Women in cyber security are also younger: 45% are millennials, vs. 33% of men. This suggests that in the coming years, women have a shot at making the cyber security field more diverse. That’s encouraging news, as research shows diverse groups generally outperform homogenous groups when solving problems. The reason, according to Scott Page, a professor at the University of Michigan, is that diverse groups have “more and different ways of seeing a problem, and thus, faster and better ways of fixing it.”

Despite being well positioned to diversify Canada’s talent pool, women entering a male-dominated field may feel isolated or afraid to speak their minds. As someone who has experienced this myself, I advise women to find a mentor – specifically, one who works in a different field than yours. This runs counter to the standard career advice, which is to find someone who understands your profession and can tell you how to navigate its complexities. This counsel suffers from two flaws.

First, as a practical matter, there are relatively few women in cyber security, so finding a female mentor in the field will be hard. Second, if you concentrate solely on professional advancement, you risk missing out on the broader benefits of mentorship. The best mentors, in my experience, are those who understand your personality and encourage you to take on new challenges.

We are all going through uncertainty in our career from time to time, and we need someone who can help us put things into perspective and provide that extra bit of clarity in challenging times.

Another standard bit of advice is to venture outside your comfort zone. For women in cyber security, that likely means living outside your comfort zone on a more or less permanent basis. I have done this since immigrating to Canada from Serbia 25 years ago, moving to a new country and learning a foreign language and culture, then taking a job at Huawei, a company that has come under intense scrutiny.

Recently, I began representing the company in media interviews – a big step for an immigrant with an engineering background.

As more aspects of our lives go online, the shortage of cyber security professionals will become a pressing challenge for Canada and the world. If you’re a woman who’s interested in technology, and you’re looking for a career path with growth potential and positive social impact, consider cyber security. Together we can rise to meet the daunting security challenges of the digital economy and bring greater diversity to a field that’s in dire need of our help.

Olivera Zatezalo is chief security officer at Huawei Canada.

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