Andrea Benito
Middle East Editor

Middle East cybersecurity industry explores how to engage more women

Mar 30, 20223 mins
Diversity and InclusionSecurity

A GISEC 2022 panel shares advice on increasing female representation in the talent-starved information security industry.

GISEC 2022 women in cybersecurity panel
Credit: Andrea Benito/IDG

Despite much discussion about how to icrease the percentage of women in cybersecurity roles over the last decade, women make up only 25% of the global cybersecurity workforce, according to the latest (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Study. The Middle East-focused Gulf Information Security Expo and Conference (GISEC), held 21-23 March 2022 in Dubai, provided a full-day panel to highlight initiatives meant to close the gender gap in cybersecurity.

“Nowadays, only 25% of women are studying computer science. In 1985 that percentage was 37%. We are attracting fewer women to come to the university,” said Inass Farouk, marketing director at Microsoft UAE. At the same time women are so underrepresented, the cybersecurity is woefuly short of staff; (ISC)2 estimates that the cybersecurity industry urgently needs 2.5 million professionals.

Unconscious biases and a lack of female role models continue to be reasons why girls give up a technological career at an early age, the panelists agreed. “We need programs to mentor women who want to be in cybersecurity; the lack of skills in the market is hurting us. Companies need to create new talents to join them,” said Hila Meller, cofounder of Leading Cyber Ladies. As an example, she said, “in my company, an annual cybersecurity program started in the UK where we teach different disciplines in the cybersecurity when you finish a program, you get the experience to take senior roles as a cybersecurity professional.”

The panelists agreed that the industry must work together to remove the prejudice that cybersecurity is a gender-specific field, as well as change the perception that it is purely a computer science discipline. In cybersecurity, technology is just one of the silver bullets needed to eliminate cyberattacks.

“Changes take time, but we need people to understand that cybersecurity is not coding at a desk,” said Heidi Young, cofounder of Women in Cybersecurity in the Middle East. “I was not aware of the opportunities in this field when I was younger.” One approach is to look for cybersecurity candidates in oter fields, she said: “In our association Women in Cybersecurity in the Middle East, there are women with a background in legal for example.”

Outreach to women — and engaging with women who reach out themselves — is a critical way to increase the number of women in the field. “It’s a good opportunity for women to network and find mentors to guide them,” said Eman Alkhatib, regional sales director at CyberKnight Technologies. She recalled her own experience: “At the beginning, I was lost. So I tried to network with the right people and ask the right questions. Those mentors helped me to create my own roadmaps in the cybersecurity and most important, be confident,” she said.

“It is great to show our faces to the students, just to talk about women in cybersecurity and how successful and happy they are about what they are doing,” Alkhatib said. “We need to focus more on the new graduates, we see them all over the place, and we need organizations to empower ladies and align their skills and interest.”