Navigating the Path to Gender Equality in Cybersecurity


In the ever-expanding realm of cybersecurity, two formidable challenges cast a shadow: an alarming scarcity of skilled professionals and a lingering gender imbalance. The 2022 (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Study recently unveiled a staggering shortage of 3.4 million proficient experts within the industry.

Adding to the complexity is the fact that women currently comprise only 24% of the global cybersecurity workforce. In South Africa, this figure is even lower, hovering at a meager 9% as of 2021. While these statistics may initially appear disheartening, they also reflect substantial progress from the mere 11% global representation recorded in 2017. Amidst these challenges, a glimmer of optimism emerges, underscoring the potential for advancement.

Overcoming Hurdles on the Cybersecurity Career Path

A steadfast resolve among women in cybersecurity is helping surmount the industry’s formidable challenges. Maria Jose Albarran, Channel Account Director at Fortinet, emphasizes the imperative of continual learning, advocating an open mindset to glean insights from diverse sources. “There is always someone who can teach you something,” Albarran remarks.

Sandra Tamer, a dedicated System Engineer at Fortinet, echoes this sentiment and underscores the power of dialogue, particularly among women, as a catalyst for personal and organizational growth. Sharing stories of both successes and setbacks, Tamer believes, can uplift and unite women in the cybersecurity domain. “Let’s reshape the culture and propel more women toward thriving rather than mere survival. It’s time to claim our rightful place at the helm.”

Tamer’s journey into cybersecurity commenced when she completed her master’s degree in telecom engineering over half a decade ago. Since her arrival at Fortinet in early 2023, she has diligently pursued expertise in the field. Tamer extends an encouraging call to other women and young girls, extolling the rapid expansion and profound significance of the engineering sector. “Numerous remarkable opportunities await women in this captivating domain. Embark on this extraordinary journey without hesitation.”

Dissecting Myths and Realities of the Cyber Landscape

An insightful survey conducted by the World Economic Forum on women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and cybersecurity has unearthed enlightening revelations, shedding light on both prevailing truths and persistent myths surrounding cybersecurity careers.

One notable revelation is the critical role of early engagement with STEM subjects. Regrettably, not all regions, including South Africa, offer equal access to quality STEM education. According to a 2022 government report, merely 13% of local STEM graduates are women.

Fortuitously, the influence of role models or mentors can wield a substantial impact. Initiatives led by NGOs or businesses, such as TechnoGirl or Girls4Tech, along with boot camps and skills programs, can provide invaluable support to girls.

Contrary to a common misconception, women are not oblivious to cybersecurity as a viable career avenue. Astonishingly, survey results reveal that while the majority of women are familiar with cybersecurity careers, many have not been exposed to the field or have not considered it a potential trajectory.

Distorted perceptions of the industry, unfortunately, can deter women from pursuing a cybersecurity career. These misconceptions are exacerbated by barriers including unequal access to job opportunities and limited entry options for non-technical individuals. The field is often perceived as a male-dominated “boys’ club,” further exacerbating the hurdles encountered by women.

However, a notable shift is underway. The 2023 Global Cybersecurity Skills Gap Report indicates that 73% of businesses are actively implementing recruitment strategies targeting women. Fortinet, too, is committed to expanding opportunities for women in South Africa’s cybersecurity landscape. The organization cultivates an inclusive culture, enhancing access to training and career progression through its renowned training institute.

Tamer reflects on the gratification of actively contributing to individuals’ and organizations’ cyber risk mitigation and security enhancement. “In cybersecurity, learning is ceaseless, fueling my engagement and providing continuous challenges. The field offers an array of opportunities and diverse career pathways.”

Charting the Course: Steps Toward Gender Parity

To bridge the gender gap in cybersecurity, companies can adopt three pivotal measures. First, tailored training and upskilling initiatives geared toward advancing women in the field are essential.

Albarran advocates, “Training is indispensable across industries, but it holds particular significance in cybersecurity, given the perpetually evolving technology landscape. Empowering and supporting fellow women stands as a powerful means to retain female talent in the cyber realm.”

Secondly, offering internships not just to recent graduates but also to individuals transitioning into cybersecurity can be profoundly impactful.

Lastly, mentorship programs play a pivotal role in nurturing women’s growth and development in cybersecurity. Pairing newcomers with experienced women cultivates a supportive ecosystem for learning, guidance, and networking.


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