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Cyber Women project looks at narrowing the gender gap in Cyber Defence

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Cyber Women project looks at narrowing the gender gap in cyber defence

By Rima Aristocrat and Susanne Cork

For generations, women were discouraged from considering the skilled trades as career or vocational options. Subtly or not-so subtly, they were guided away from jobs that required physical strength or endurance. While these attitudes are changing, they have effectively left many women out of high-demand skilled trades like welding, plumbing, carpentry or automotive repair.

In the digital economy, we have an opportunity to avoid making the same mistake as our forebears. Cyber and network security represents the first trade of the new economy. Cybersecurity professionals are not building walls, fitting pipes or doing home repairs – as tradespeople they are building firewalls, patching network platforms and installing infrastructure in offices, homes and facilities across the country. Unfortunately, as is the case with the broader tech sector, a gender imbalance is equally evident in the cybersecurity trade. The 2018 (ISC) 2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study found women comprise just 24% of the global cybersecurity profession.

The demand for a global cyber workforce is growing rapidly as organizations recognize a need to defend against and prepare for cyber attacks and breaches. Yet governments and the private sector are having difficulty filling these important roles – a situation worsened by the fact that so few women are engaged in the trade. The global workforce gap for cybersecurity professionals is already close to three million, and will continue to grow, according to the (ISC) 2 study. What a tremendous opportunity to look into the barriers women face to joining this workforce.

To understand how and why so few women are choosing well-paying careers in cyber and network security, we are working with the Department of National Defence to identify barriers preventing their engagement. Calian and Willis College’s Veteran Friendly Transition Program have a long and recognized history supporting the Canadian Armed Forces. Whether through health care, training, education, employment or easing military member transition to civilian life, Calian and Willis are leaders in serving those who serve us.

The Government of Canada is increasingly in need of cyber defence analysts to ensure its networks are protected, with recruits coming through the Department of National Defence (DND) and the government’s new Canadian Centre for Cybersecurity. They’ve made it a priority to recruit more women into these important roles.

Our organizations are engaged in training programs for these cybersecurity defence professionals, where we have seen first-hand that enrollment is predominantly men. With DND, we wanted to better understand why women in the military and defence are failing to choose a cyber career path. Hence our new project: Engaging Women in Cyber Defence. Its new website CyberWoman.ca is home to a survey that we hope women across the country will complete, as well as people across the military and veteran community.

In the spring of 2018, we had an opportunity to apply to the Government of Canada’s Defence Engagement Program. This innovative grant program seeks targeted expertise from academia, NGOs, think tanks and the private sector to inform, confirm, or challenge current defence policy thinking. The spring call for applications sought project proposals focused on the priorities outlined in Strong, Secure and Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy.

While DND wants to increase the number of women enrolling in Canada’s cyber defence, it faces a dual challenge on this front: In addition to low participation in cyber, fewer women than men choose a military career in the first place. As demand for cyber professionals continues to grow, now is the time to identify barriers to such career paths for women and better understand the reasons for low participation.

We see this project as an important start that opens a dialog and, for both of our organizations, provides guidance on how to expand female participation in our cybersecurity training and employment programs. We have an opportunity to engage millions of Canadian women in exciting, rewarding and well-paid careers across the tech, IT and cyber sectors. Let’s not commit the same errors of the generations before us. Help us reach these women – because we can do better.

Rima Aristocrat is President and CEO of Ottawa- and Arnprior-based Willis College, offering industry-led, job-ready skills training and education and enabling adults to transition into careers in business, healthcare, technology and cybersecurity. Susanne Cork is a Director with Calian Group, a diversified professional services company based in Ottawa that employs 3,000 people with offices and projects that span Canada, U.S. and international markets.

To participate in the survey visit cyberwoman.ca.

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