Tearing down the barriers to Women in Cyber Security
By Rima Aristocrat, President and CEO of the Willis Cyber Academy and Willis College, Ottawa.
Why are only 11% of Canadian cyber and network security professionals women? There’s absolutely no logical reason for it, and I can prove that. Before I do, let’s look back at how our society managed to reinforce rather than tear down the barriers that stood in the way of a woman’s ambition to join the building and traditional trades back in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.
We were told then that a woman would never want to be a drywaller or that a woman couldn’t be a roofer or a plumber, or shouldn’t expect to last as an electrician or as a miner in Alberta or northern Ontario. Posters were plastered across the walls of our high schools encouraging men to take on the building trades. Men were depicted on television fixing homes and carrying out those roles which served to reinforce the societal perception. Today, according to the 2011 Statistics Canada Labour Survey, only 6% of all trade positions are held by women, a field that pays significantly more than the median income level in Canada.
Let’s address for a moment the notion that a woman might not want to lean towards a physical job, even if I vehemently disagree because I know many women who not only love the trades, but enjoy the salaries and benefits that come with them. But even if it were true that women preferred less physical employment, then why are there only slightly more women (11%) who make up the cyber and network security workforce in Canada? The physical argument doesn’t hold up. Yet the reasons I hear all too often are eerily similar:
“A woman would never want to get into the cyber security industry.” “The person fighting off ransomware and hackers should be a man, because hackers themselves are men.”
(Quote from Unknown)
I challenge you to conduct a Google Images search for ‘cyber security’ or even the word ‘hacker’ and to find a single woman listed in the results. Are women not represented in the field because they are inherently incapable of logical, problem-solving thought? Of course, this is not true, and simply reinforces stereotypes we have relied upon for decades. We should and need to do something to change it.
Having overseen the education of thousands of students in the technology and cyber fields over the years, I can tell you the content is not gender specific and the learning students achieve builds on strengths that both women and men have. In fact, men and women who thrive in the cyber and network security industry are problem solvers, are able to think logically, and can be a manager one day and a customer service expert the next. The simple fact is that women belong in the cyber and network industries just as much as men do.
It’s time to identify the barriers facing women in technology. Together, let’s open the door for thousands of women from across Canada who aspire to a rewarding career in the cyber and IT sectors. With the talent shortage facing the IT industry, I promise we are going to need them.
About the author:
Rima Aristocrat is the President and CEO of Willis College located in Ottawa. Willis College has over 150 years of academic excellence with three campus locations in Ottawa, Arnprior and Smiths Falls. Rima has taught and led Willis for over 30 years and founded the Willis Cyber Security Academy, TeKnoWave, Veteran Friendly Transition Program, and the Women in Technology Board of Trustees dedicated to help root out the barriers facing women in technology. She has trained over 300 Indigenous women in several fields of study and will soon unveil the new 2018-19-20 Board of Trustees for the Women in Technology Scholarship that will recognize an aspiring woman who chooses a career path in the cyber and IT field.