This International Women's Day, I interviewed Lisa Ventura, Founder of Cyber Security Unity,and she shared her thoughts on how we can #EmbraceEquity.
Equity can be defined as giving everyone what they need to be successful. The IWD 2023 campaign theme seeks to forge worldwide understanding about why equal opportunities aren’t enough, and a focus on gender equity needs to be part of every society’s DNA.
International Women’s Day belongs to everyone, everywhere. Collectively, we can all help create a diverse, equitable and inclusive world.
1. How can companies strive for more equitable talent attraction?
For them to strive for more equitable talent attraction, organisations must be intentional about creating a culture of inclusion and belonging that recognises and values diversity. Such a culture needs to come from within, so there are a few steps they can take to embrace equity.
Firstly, they should examine their recruitment practices to identify any potential barriers to diversity. They should ask themselves if their job postings are inclusive, if they are recruiting from diverse sources, and make sure they are using diverse interview panels. Organisations will also need to expand their outreach, this could include partnering with community organisations that serve diverse populations, attending job fairs and conferences that attract diverse candidates and leveraging social media and other online platforms to reach a broad audience.
This isn’t enough to embrace equity though, and to ensure that change comes from within, organisations need to ensure their hiring managers have had adequate training on diversity and inclusion. This can include unconscious bias training, cultural competency training, and other resources to help them identify and mitigate their own biases. A culture of inclusion should also be fostered by creating a work environment where all employees feel valued, respected, and supported. This can include providing employee resource groups, mentorship programs, and other initiatives that support diversity and inclusion.
If organisations take these steps they can create and foster a much more equitable and inclusive recruitment process that attracts a diverse pool of talented candidates.
2. Within your market/industry sector, what progress have you seen businesses take to progress gender equity?
Within the cyber security industry, I’ve seen great progress towards gender equity, but I’ve also seen some organisations take some backwards steps. The gender pay gap in cyber security still exists, and I’ve had first-hand experience of this. I was offered 15k less than a male counterpart for an equivalent “Head of” role, and this practice has got to stop. Employers will also miss out on incredible talent by not recruiting from a diverse talent pool, and this is especially so with those who are neurodiverse. Studies have shown that those who are neurodiverse are well suited to careers in cyber security.
3. What is your top advice for making job descriptions more inclusive?
Job descriptions can have a significant impact on the diversity of your candidate pool. Organisations should ensure they use gender-neutral language, as gendered language can create unintentional barriers for candidates of different genders. Use gender-neutral terms and avoid using pronouns like "he" or "she" to describe the ideal candidate.
They should also focus on essential qualifications for the role and avoid including unnecessary requirements that may discourage candidates from applying. For example, if a certain level of education is not essential for the role, consider making it optional. Also, make sure inclusive language is used that reflects a culture of diversity and inclusion. For example, consider using terms like "diverse" or "inclusive" in the job description to signal your commitment to building a more diverse workforce.
4. What advice would you give aspiring women in the industry you work in?
Identify your transferrable skills. Unlike other professions, cyber security experience is often not needed to get into the industry, but many will come from roles that have similar skillets. IF you can demonstrate relevant existing experience, your transferable skills as they are known, there is no reason why you can’t get a foot on the ladder in cyber security. Also, network and make as many industry connections as possible. Meeting people is a great way to hear about opportunities when they become available. Attend as many cyber security events and conferences as you can, even if you have to do them remotely at the moment due to the pandemic. Gaining a qualification is another way to get a foothold in the industry. Which ones you need will depend on your career path, but you should seek out a course that covers general topics and gives you a good oversight into cyber security and what it entails.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask about opportunities, the worst that can happen is that the answer is no. One of my favourite mantras is “fortune favours the bold”; women often tend to feel that their knowledge isn’t good enough and put themselves down – impostor syndrome is rife in cyber security. As the industry is vast and constantly changing and evolving, it is very easy to fall into this trap of self-doubt. My advice is to stay confident about the skills you bring to the table and be just as assertive about your thoughts. Cyber security is a great line of work with a lot of varied opportunities. Knowing that you work in an industry that makes someone’s life a little safer will keep you going for a long time in this career.
5. International Women’s Day is also about celebrating women and their achievements. What woman/women inspire you?
I’m inspired by many women and their achievements in the cyber security industry, but some of the main ones I look up to include Lisa Forte (Partner, Red Goat Cyber Security), Jenny Radcliffe (Podcast creator and host), Lindy Cameron (CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre) and Professor Lisa Short from L&P Digital.
6. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
There are many barriers that can prevent women from reaching leadership positions, both in the workplace and in other areas of society. But I think the biggest barrier is a combination of a lack of work/life balance along with unconscious bias. Women often face greater pressure to balance their work and family responsibilities, which can make it harder for them to pursue leadership positions that require long hours or extensive travel. And when it comes to unconscious bias, even well-intentioned people may have biases that can impact their decisions about who to hire or promote. For example, they may assume that women are less committed to their careers because they have families.