17 February 2023
Despite growing demand for cybersecurity experts, there is a clear paradox: women are still largely under-represented in tech and cybersecurity jobs. In an attempt to remedy this situation, Orange Cyberdefense is launching the #NoBiasInCyber campaign which highlights the important statistics, stereotypes, and female role models to allow women to thrive in these jobs. Let’s take a look at some initiatives, like Women4Cyber, to encourage women to enter the field.
Imagine this: a young, confident five-year-old girl firmly believes that women can be “really, really smart.” But when she turns six, everything changes. Suddenly, she starts to doubt her abilities and limits herself, to the point where she refuses to take part in a game for “children who are really, really smart” - while boys her age happily participate.
This poignant example is described by the writer Caroline Criado Perez in her book "Invisible Women." This groundbreaking book demonstrates how brilliance bias is taught to children from a very young age. It features an array of worrying facts and unsettling statistics revealing the extent of gender inequality in our society.
This invisibility is not limited to the classroom - it is also reflected in career choices, particularly in jobs linked to tech and cybersecurity, where harmful biases still exist.
Statistics reveal that women are largely under-represented in digital jobs. Yet these figures are not enough to cause a substantial shift in mindsets and practices.
32% of women in technical and engineering roles are often “the only woman in the room” at work, according to the McKinsey report “Women in the Workplace 2022.”
This can partially explain why women in tech face a higher level of gender bias. Women are also significantly less represented than men in engineering and tech, with figures declining since 2018.
McKinsey study “Women in the Workplace
In Europe, just 14% of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates are women, while 28% are men. This gap reflects the significant gender inequality in this area.
Countries like Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, and the Netherlands have the best scores in terms of female participation in digital sectors, with percentages ranging from 64.6% to 76.9%. These countries also get good results in the DESI (Digital Economy and Society Index).
Yet Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, and Italy have lower percentages in terms of female participation, with scores ranging from 36.2% to 43.8%.
For the “STEM graduates” indicator, the best performing countries are Ireland, France, Croatia, Finland, and Denmark, with a high number of female graduates in science, technology, engineering or mathematics per 1000 individuals aged 20-29 (source: Eurostat).
Women in STEM in Europe
The World Bank believes that gender equality and the equal involvement of men and women in the industries of the future are essential for the economic and social development of countries.
However, according to the study “The equality equation: Advancing the Participation of Women and Girls in STEM,” women face additional hurdles to access jobs in tech and keep their place. They are under-represented in the most advanced technology sectors, such as data and artificial intelligence, where they account for just 26% of employees. Also, just 15% of engineers and 12% of specialists in cloud computing are women.
This under-representation results from three interdependent factors:
Backed by these findings, the World Bank underlines the importance of addressing the obstacles preventing women from entering and staying in STEM careers to ensure equal gender representation in these key sectors.
School reflects society, which means that it also reflects its faults.
Multiple specialists agree that stereotypes and bias can have a negative influence on aspirations, identity, interests, mindsets, motivation, self-esteem, and personal effectiveness in STEM.
The World Bank’s report underlines the existence of sexist bias in many environments, particularly in education. Data - primarily from Europe and the USA and based on limited samples - confirms these biases. From the start of school (or even before), stereotypes often exist. For example, one study showed that 70% of adults surveyed in 34 countries associate STEM subjects with men.
Educational materials used to teach children can also reflect these stereotypes. According to the same report, several countries such as Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Romania, and the USA have school curricula that reproduce these stereotypes.
“Men are more likely to be depicted as professionals in science (whether by name or as an illustration), while women are more likely to be depicted as teachers.”
It is difficult to measure the exact impact of these biases in textbooks and school curricula. But we have good reason to fear that children take on these gender stereotypes, which influence their attitudes and aspirations.
Research in France and Israel has proven that stereotypes favoring boys in education have an impact on student test results, whether boys or girls. These results underline the importance of recognizing and breaking down stereotypes from a very young age, to encourage student aspirations and self-esteem, regardless of sex or social background.
According to another ISC2 study on women in cybersecurity, just 25% of the workforce in this sector is female.
ISC2 study: Cyber Workforce
Yet there is a shortage of talent, with millions of unfilled vacancies, a real danger for networks, data, and infrastructure. The number of jobs available in this field has risen 350% since 2013, according to Cybersecurity Ventures, and this gap will grow in the coming years. Women are a valuable source of talent for businesses and local authorities.
To reverse the trend, it is crucial that cyber businesses recognize and break down stereotypes that have contributed to holding women back in this sector.
For example, the idea that IT is a man’s job. For Isabelle Collet, author of the book "L'informatique a-t-elle un sexe ?” [Does IT have a gender?], girls’ disillusion with the advanced use of computers is because young female students cannot identify with the hacker image.
“Women struggle to feel valid in a profession whose image does not look like them. They will say: “I do IT” more often than: “I’m an IT engineer.” Even though the very first programmer was a woman.” (Isabelle Collet, Monde diplomatique)
The image of hackers, largely spread by the media, also reinforces the idea that IT engineers are primarily men passionate about machines.
Despite the persistent stereotypes, some women have made inroads into the world of cyber, like Sara Puigvert, Global Operations EVP at Orange Cyberdefense.
“Sara, it will be hard for you. You’re young, you're a woman, you're not French and you're an engineer.”
But Sara was not discouraged by these obstacles. On the contrary, she seized the new opportunities presented to her.
“They offered me difficult opportunities, and I took them. And I think that it is something that we must all acknowledge. Ultimately, we make our own path, and it is up to us to decide what we want to do, what role we want to play.”
However, many women in Europe still struggle to be trusted and consider leadership roles in this field.
According to a study from the leading digital ecosystem union in France, Syntec numérique, the proportion of women in digital in France is just 27%, while in Asia and the Middle East it is 50%.
At a time when cyberattacks are multiplying and diversifying, it is essential to reconsider the cultural and social barriers preventing women from getting involved in IT jobs. For this purpose, it is important to raise young girls’ awareness of these professions and to offer positive role models. Also, it is crucial to publicize the reality of these jobs to allow collective awareness and encourage greater talent diversity.
But how can we encourage diversity in cybersecurity jobs? Several associations committed to job diversity offer solutions to be applied urgently. This includes the training and support actions offered by the Women4Cyber foundation. With a promise and challenge worthy of Lisbeth Salander in the Millennium Trilogy: “Cybersecurity must be inclusive, or it won’t survive.”
This is also a challenge that Orange Cyberdefense has taken on by partnering with Women4Cyber to offer a targeted mentoring program. Women4Cyber, which has over 30,000 members in Europe and the UK, aims to create a network of men and women committed to the challenge of cyber skills.
The program aims to help women at each stage of their career by putting them in contact with experienced mentors, both men and women, who have successful careers at leading companies in the sector. The aim is to help women to develop their skills and progress their careers in cybersecurity. Since 2021, the “Women4Cyber Mentorship” program has mobilized more than 400 participants to promote women’s skills in cybersecurity.
Orange Cyberdefense is taking part in the fourth edition of this program by getting its employees involved to achieve an ambitious target: encouraging women to join cybersecurity jobs and getting more women in the ecosystem to allow companies to recruit. An opportunity for Orange Cyberdefense, which plans to hire 800 new cybersecurity professionals by the end of 2023. For the Orange group, 70% of external recruitment in security takes place at Orange Cyberdefense.
At Orange Cyberdefense, the current percentage of women in technical jobs is 13%. Yet the ambitious target is to reach at least 20% by 2025. Quotas have been set for this purpose, but they are just a tool and reference, as it is a matter of talent and skills first and foremost.
To highlight women and their expertise, several initiatives have been put in place:
Sanne Aagard, Marketing Manager, one of the coordinators of the Women@OCD community, sees herself as a “thick-skinned” woman. Her commitment to women in cyber is a result of this drive, this desire to encourage her colleagues to be bold and take their place in any area of society.
“I know how difficult it can be to find your place. That is why I decided to promote competent women in our community, not because they are women, but because they are talented professionals who deserve to be recognized,” she says.
Leading managed security services at Orange Cyberdefense, Kaja Narum shares her experience as a strong woman in cybersecurity.
“I manage and lead products for our services, creating new sources of revenue while balancing the needs of internal stakeholders. I often compare this task to a spider in her web, as we must constantly be picking up signals from everywhere to ensure our success.”
Kaja vividly remembers her first day of work at Orange Cyberdefense.
“I looked around me and I had never seen so many women before, which was inspiring as it created a positive and unique environment. There was lots of energy, not just from women, but also people of all ages. I think that it’s great, as we need contributions from all sexes and generations to succeed.”
Today, after around twenty years in the sector, she believes that a perfect understanding of technology is not the passport to go for a career in cybersecurity, unlike the stereotype.
“I think that one of the key skills and assets to work in cybersecurity today is to have a good understanding of the markets. It is important to understand the global economy and all its businesses. Plus, exceptional communication skills are also essential. You need to think and respond quickly, while acknowledging the consequences and possibilities. It’s the ideal place for people who like change, as we are in a constantly changing environment."
With this in mind, Hugues Foulon, CEO of the Orange Cyberdefense group, underlines the importance of diverse skills and profiles in cybersecurity. He believes that success in cybersecurity depends first and foremost on human intelligence, where women can play an essential role.
“The stereotypical image of the young man in a hoodie is a thing of the past! The field of cybersecurity now attracts all profiles and the war for talent is raging. We cannot afford to miss out on 50% of the talent. We need women who excel in all our professions! Managers, be active allies in promoting diversity and inclusion. Ladies, dare to come and make a difference in a field that shapes our digital future.
McKinsey study “Women in the Workplace” 2022.pdf
Women in Digital Scoreboard 2021
The World Bank's report “The Equality Equation”