Two Birds, One Stone: Fixing the Gender Imbalance in Cyber Security will Boost Online Safety In Australia

By Samantha Van Stokrom
on 7 March 2023

Samantha Van Stokrom, Solutions Engineer at Netskope, discusses why we need more diverse representation within the highly in-demand cybersecurity industry.

Do you know teenagers who dream about a job in cyber security? Neither do I. Back in Bendigo where I grew up, I certainly wasn’t, and I never thought I’d end up starting a career in the field. And yet here I am, a Solutions Engineer in the Australian arm of a global cyber security company called Netskope, while simultaneously studying cyber security and law at Deakin University. The best part is – I’m loving it. And that’s despite all the cliches, and some of the realities. 

My aim here is to debunk the former, and discuss the latter (and I think currently the industry is doing a terrible job at both), and show that cyber security can be an attractive career path for women. This is important because we need more women – and people from minorities too for that matter – in the cyber sector, not just for gender balance, but also because we desperately need more individuals to help protect Australian people and organisations online. 

cyber security
Samantha Van Stokrom, Solutions Engineer at Netskope

You have probably noticed how Australia grapples with data breaches, scams and cyber crime. If not, here’s a couple of stats for you: a cyber crime is reported every 7 minutes in Australia, and Aussies could have lost as much as AU$4 billion in online scams in 2022, which is double the amount reported in 2021. In the meantime, Australia is lacking skilled workers in data protection and cyber security, as many as 30,000 more recruits are needed in the next four years

Those are simple statistics, but they illustrate a complex issue. I know what you may be thinking; “No way, I don’t want to end up working as the only woman in a boy’s club. And I don’t know anything about coding and don’t want to be stuck doing it for the rest of my career.” You just summarised all the cliches I want to discuss. 

So let’s start with the elephant in the room. Yes, it’s a male-dominated industry, but this has never been an issue for me. On the contrary, I’ve found an employer with an amazing culture where care, learning, growth and gender equality are valued. Being a woman doesn’t mean I don’t have a voice, equal opportunities or that I’m not part of the gang. In fact, I have learnt that a male-dominated workplace is perfectly capable of nurturing a good culture where women can feel valued as well as have fun. I’m convinced women can thrive in this sector if we can help them be less daunted by the current status quo, especially with the diversity of exciting roles available in the sector. 

Which leads me to my second point: cyber security isn’t about coding, and it isn’t boring either. Let’s elevate the conversation. Cybercriminals are doing a lot of damage to our society, and ultimately, our role is to help build better defences for individuals and organisations online, which requires a large diversity of skills and therefore offers a large diversity of career paths. Compliance, policy, risk strategy, advocacy, education, marketing, business consulting, sales and even HR are all functions and potential career paths within the ecosystem, and there is really no need for a technical background or degree to consider working in cyber security. There are also a bunch of programs designed to help individuals make a career shift in security. And let’s not forget that salaries in this sector are really competitive at the moment!

For now, we are facing a chicken and egg situation. Women look for role models to prove they will be able to thrive in an industry, but how do you attract these initial trailblazers? The industry needs to come up with ways to change perceptions about cyber security through awareness and marketing campaigns designed to clarify both the diversity of roles available and how to get started. Once we start having better female representation in the industry, and examples to follow, it will hopefully trigger a larger movement, and the gender imbalance should start taking care of itself, helping with the lack of talent in the process.

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