“I was the only woman on the team.”

“I had no clear career path.”

“It’s a bro culture.”

“I had no mentors.”

“I was bullied and isolated.”

“The workplace wasn’t flexible or family friendly.”

“I didn’t feel valued.”

“I wasn’t supported by the leadership.”

These were some of the reasons women gave for quitting careers in cybersecurity, at an event held on International Women’s Day.

The ‘Women in Cyber’ event, held as part of Cisco Live in Melbourne, was hosted by Sandra Ragg, Assistant Secretary Cyber Policy at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and supported by the ACS.

Ragg said that the aim of the gathering was to think about “the ways that we can address both the structural and personal barriers that result in only 11% of our profession being women. And to create opportunities both for us and others, and for our employers and organisations as well.”

The workshop-style event encouraged table groups to consider the barriers women face to choosing cyber careers, and the reasons women were leaving the industry.

Sandra Ragg addresses the audience

Some comments that came from the discussions included:

  • Cyber roles are not being marketed in the right way to make them attractive to females. They are positioned as technical and geeky and about programming. We need to position them as creative roles, ones that create a lot of change.
  • We need to make sure we are paying equally for males and females, and communicating that to potential hires so that they feel empowered to undertake these roles;
  • Careers counsellors in high schools are failing females to the point some are actively discouraging girls from pursuing an ICT career;
  • There are a lot of women who feel they don’t have the levels of confidence needed for cyber roles. We need to build their confidence – women frequently understate and undersell themselves.;
  • There is a notable salary disparity between men and women in cybersecurity roles;
  • It’s great when women have a supporting manager or a mentor. Be a mentor yourself and open the door for another woman.

The Hon Dan Tehan, the minister assisting the Prime Minister on Cybersecurity, appeared via video to encourage more women to join the ranks of cybersecurity professionals.

“The government recognises that to meet the future cybersecurity needs of our nation, we need more women working in cybersecurity. And one of the best ways of attracting women to cyber is for women to have role models in this field that they can look up to. You may not think of yourself as a role model, but I do.”

The final speaker, Craig Davies, CEO at Australian Cyber Security Growth Network (and former Head of Security at Atlassian), said he’d been tasked by the government to create a cybersecurity industry in Australia.

“Whilst the Network is only small – we haven’t even been in business 90 days – we’re 75% women,” Davies told attendees. “Here’s my challenge to you: Why don’t we have more firms, both start-ups and scale-ups, dominated by women?

“We’re at an incredible point in Australian culture around the development of this [cybersecurity] industry. If we want to grow a vibrant industry that delivers an economic benefit to Australia, this is the time to start making changes.”