Fast forward several years later, while attending a women's conference I had the pleasure of meeting Tamarak Verrall. As soon as I saw her smiling face, I knew I wanted to learn more about what she was promoting. Tam handed me a pamphlet on World Pulse which I learned is a social organization connecting women around the world. By giving women a voice and platform to tell their stories, connect and support each other, they’ve created a synergistic society which is stronger collectively than the individual elements and powerful things can happen. This is the type of community I’m working to build for women in ICT, cybersecurity. Which brings me back to the reason I’m telling you my story.
Last year, after more than two decades in the cybersecurity workforce, I made a decision to switch gears and become an advocate, an educator and a service provider that enables women working or looking to transition into the workforce.
With more than 3 million jobs available by 2020 and some estimates as high as 10 million by 2025, it is that workforce in the greatest need! Cybersecurity is a heavily male-dominated industry and women make up only 10% of the cyber workforce here in Canada. Enrollment rates are reported as low as 11% and one in two women will drop out of ICT within the first four years of their career. Inherit bias exists where women are under-represented, discriminated against, bullied, harassed and underpaid. After experiencing many challenges and roadblocks myself and lack of support, I was inspired to do something to help solve these problems and empower women in this industry.
That’s when I decided to start my non-profit organization, the Women CyberSecurity Society which is dedicated to providing support at all levels for women working or interested in a cybersecurity career. Clearly, women need help throughout the lifecycle of their careers, not just at the beginning. If we’re ever going to achieve more diversity and inclusion, we need to retain women in the workforce and support shouldn’t stop once they find that first job or graduate.
After a few months of speaking with women from around the globe, it became evident public awareness, understanding and acceptance of the issues were needed. I discovered, the bias was not just within the cybersecurity industry but cultural and ingrained in the fabric of society. After all, what does it mean to be a woman, a woman in ICT? Are you more or less feminine working in this industry? Who has a right to tell us, “that’s technical, you don’t need to worry about that “or “that’s technical, you don’t need to attend that meeting”, or “that’s technical, are you sure you want to submit that paper?”, etc. etc.
All of this had me searching for solutions and asking myself, “what could I do to make a difference on a global scale?”. That’s when I came up with the idea of an International Women in Cyber Day (IWCD). This initiative is now a global effort of hundreds of women and male advocates supporting the campaign. Our petition is active in Canada and Ireland and several other countries are at various stages of the petition process. We’re calling upon governments around the globe and the United Nations to recognize September 1st, 2019 as International Women in Cyber Day. This is in an effort to retain women in the industry and retain more to enter as the skills gap widens alongside the gender gap, leaving organizations and governments at increased risk due to lack of resources.
I envision September 1st as a day of celebration but also a reminder of the unique challenges women struggles within this industry and call you to act to support this cause and women in ICT, cybersecurity!