While threats have never been stronger in the current geopolitical context, the cybertechnology world is faced with a structural talent deficit. According to a report by Fortinet, the number of jobs needs to increase by 65% to ensure that organisations are properly defended. This means that there will be a shortfall of 2.72 million experts in the world. Of course, France is not exempt from this shortage of talent. According to Wavestone, more than 15,000 positions in the country have not been filled.
To reverse the trend, the cybertechnology sector needs to work to make its industry and jobs more attractive and better-known. It must also undertake a vast diversity and inclusion strategy to expand its pool of talent. Increasing the number of women in the sector would be a good place to start. “There’s no reason to exclude 50% of the population. Also, mixed-gender teams are much more productive,” says Arnaud Coustillière, chair of the Cyber Excellence Cluster (CEC), considering that reaching gender parity is achievable.
Only 11% of cybertechnology experts are women
In this area, the jobs market has a long way to go. According to ANSSI’s Cybersecurity Jobs Observatory, 11% of those working the sector were women in 2021. This figure is well below the percentage of women at work throughout the digital technology ecosystem, which is 27.9% according to professional association Numeum. And since 14% of those currently studying cybersecurity are women, the trend will take a long time to reverse.
The causes of this low level of women in the industry are well known: a certain toxic, macho culture in engineering schools and businesses, to which we can add sexist stereotypes of geeks. Consciously or unconsciously, this discourages teen girls from choosing this career path.
In a 2019 study, Kaspersky Lab analysed the reasons behind this lack of interest. One of the reasons was the lack of parity in the sector. This is backed up by the facts, since 30% of women respondents said they had “encountered ‘mansplaining’ and condescension from their male colleagues“.
“Type ‘cybersecurity’ into Google Images and you will see a photo of a hacker in a hoodie. This image discourages young girls, and it’s very far from the reality of our jobs,” says Nacira Salvan, chair and founder of CEFCYS, an association for women in cybersecurity.
“I don’t wear a hoodie“
This experience gave them the name for a guide that was released for FIC 2020: “I don’t wear a hoodie, but I work in cybersecurity” This work, the second volume of which will be published on 8 March, is intended for girls in secondary school who are currently applying to university, as well as their parents. 23 “cyberwomen” will help break down stereotypes by explaining what their everyday life is like. They are role models with whom young women can identify.
CEFCYS, which has 500 members, is increasing the number of its initiatives to promote careers in cybersecurity. Each year, it holds the Cyber Women Awards. “This year, a ‘jury’s choice’ award was given to a 52-year-old woman who is changing careers. It’s a way of showing that there’s no age limit for embarking on a career in cybertechnology,” says Nacira Salvan. The 2023 edition will be expanding to cover all careers in digital technology, renaming itself the Digital Women Awards.
Nacira Salvan regrets that there is a sort of self-censorship among those concerned: “For the first edition of the awards, a third of nominees refused. They felt they didn’t deserve it. Today, this rate has fallen to 10-15 %.” The CEFCYS chair would like to raise their profile by including more women in debates. “I would like to see more women speaking up in round tables and on television and radio, not to fill a quota but because of their expertise.”
CEFCYS is also developing training programmes with webinars and two masterclasses each month. It has also built partnerships with market players like Kaspersky and Fortinet, which offer free certification training for their tools. CEFCYS also hosts three “job dating” events per year with the site Cyberjobs, with the next event being held on 9 March. Partner companies such as Sopra Steria, Orange Cyberdéfense and Willix will be there to recruit applicants.
CEFCYS is also known for its mentorship initiatives. “For six months to a year, professionals such as pentesters explain the realities of their job to young women. At the start of my career, before I became CISO, I was running cables and configuring routers,” says Nacira Salvan. She was CISO for a variety of companies and is currently a mission leader for France’s interior ministry.
“There’s lots of room for young women“
The Cyber Excellence Cluster is also working on mentorship. In 2021, it established the “Cyber Cadettes” programme, where a Master’s student is assigned a sponsor for two years. The sponsor is a seasoned professional who works with them during their course, discusses their career plans and invites them to events.
“These young women have nothing to be afraid of. There’s lots of room for them,” says Vice-Admiral Arnaud Coustillière. To help them build their self-confidence, the cadettes recently took a professional theatre course to learn how to speak in public. In exchange, cadettes are asked to give presentations in high schools and be present on social networks.
“Neurodivergent people make brilliant analysts“
Increasing the number of women in the sector is not the CEC’s only front. In November 2022, it published a manifesto for more diversity & inclusion in which it encourages businesses in the sector to be open to neurodivergent profiles. These include those on the autism spectrum such as Asperger’s syndrome.
“Neurodivergent people have skills that are in particular demand in cybertechnology careers in terms of engagement, determination, thoroughness and extremely logical thinking. They apply instructions to the letter and never give up on a mission. These people generally make brilliant analysts,” says Arnaud Coustillière.
Given their hypersensitivity and emotional and relational challenges, accessing jobs can be difficult for those with Aspergers, however. “We need to create a suitable and kind environment to help them find their place in their jobs,” the vice-admiral says. The CEC is working on this issue with appropriate companies, such as Avencod and Audiconsult, associations Aspie-Friendly and AFG Autisme and Institut Marie-Thérèse Solacroup (IMTS).