International Women's Day celebrates the huge contribution that women have made to all sectors of society and a couple of weeks ago I watched an inspiring film about just this. As I watched the film Hidden Figures, I was overwhelmed at what was achieved under such a turbulent and difficult, political backdrop. And, as we sit here today in 2017, I reflect on what we have achieved for women within the security sector.
We've seen huge leaps but there's no denying that we have a long way to go. Not only is there a huge gender imbalance within the technology sector as a whole, but women make up just 10% of the global cyber security workforce. This year's slogan for International Women's Day is about being bold - so how can we champion for change in the security sector and make a difference for women?
Education for the real world...
This year I've already seen some encouraging signs. In January, GCHQ announced its tech skills competition for teenage girls as part of an initiative designed to encourage more women to join the fight to protect the UK from cyber attacks and hackers. I strongly believe that we must start to encourage girls early on - that a career in security can be just as fulfilling as alternative roles that may be much more familiar to them.
Just recently announced was the "cyber curriculum" that will mix classroom and online teaching with real-world challenges and hands-on work experience. This new style of education for cyber security provides an approach for students to really get to the heart of a challenge, and flex their learning as threats constantly change.
In the same way that the school curriculum is mixing up its teaching, University cyber security courses also provide real world examples. Last September, Warwick University announced a module for its Cyber Security master's course which addresses key strategic cyber security issues relating to business, particularly from the perspective of an organisation's Chief Information Security Officer. This is great for women who want to get into top positions in the tech/security space as the course can also be balanced around family life and other commitments as it's also available to be studied part time.
The role of women in 'new collar' jobs
While many of us promise our children that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up, the numbers seem to tell a different story. The truth is that women hold just over 14% of STEM roles in the UK despite making up half of the population. We can further increase diversity in leadership by reinforcing that woman can have tech careers that sit outside developer or engineering roles.
Many of today's twenty-somethings don't realise that they have the potential to hold a technology role, without the need to code. There are skills required between professional careers and trade work, meaning they combine technical skills with a knowledge base rooted in higher education. Ginni Rometty, CEO, IBM most recently described a new type of role that we will all be playing - this idea of 'new collar' jobs. A marriage of machine and wo(man), adapting your skillset to fit the current environment and similarly, aligning what is taught in school with what is needed with business.
Popular culture and being bold
I am comforted by the fact that outside of my sector, popular culture is really starting to recognise the contribution of women in the technology industry, past and present. Last month, we saw 20th Century Fox's Hidden Figures tell the story of the Space Race from a new perspective, uncovering the contributions of three afro - American female mathematicians. More and more women are entering both regular and high level positions in tech, and this is partly down to visibility of women in STEM roles.
I always tell my girls that they can be anything they want to be and I am committed to making this a reality in the security sector. Cyber security skills initiatives, such as those from the UK Government, are important for raising awareness for this crucial area of work. What I think will take longer to change, is the entrenched stereotypes created for women and imparted on populations. It is clear there needs be a new status quo when it comes to women in security, technology and all other blossoming STEM careers. This is definitely what we need to work towards if we are going to attract women to this sector and start to fill the 1.5 million cyber security jobs expected to be open vacancies worldwide by 2020.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today
Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email firstname.lastname@example.org