Encouraging diversity to tackle the cyber-skills gap

Opinion by Lynn Studd

What are the practical steps that major employers of cyber-security talent can do to ensure they are accessing the female talent pool, and reducing obstacles to their long-term participation in the sector?

The Security industry has a well-known cyber-skills gap, with simply more jobs available than people qualified to fill them. To add to the complexity of the recruitment challenge, although there has been a year-on year increase in the number of women working in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), surprisingly few are involved in cyber. More must be done to demystify what cyber-security is, and explain the role that cyber- security professionals play in keeping individuals safe in their daily lives.  

Diversity in the industry

Evidence suggests that greater diversity in the workplace positively impacts business performance and profitability by enhancing innovation – one of the 10 pillars in the UK industrial strategy. Innovation of course is vital in driving competitiveness and developing solutions to the great societal challenges.  

BT is looking at some of the things that explain why some women thrive in STEM environments and how they can become innovators in Security. That includes looking at what the barriers and the enablers of their careers are. It is also doing simple things like trying to use language in its communications that women identify with, focusing on terminology such as problem solving, making a difference, improving people’s lives, and simplifying the complex. All these things are very much part of a job in cyber-security, and terminology can really help a more diverse range of candidates see these connections and how a career in the sector could impact on society. 

In addition,BT is building relationships with secondary and tertiary level education providers to reach out to younger generations and attract a more diverse workforce. It is working with NSCS on its Cyber First programme (in particular its girls competition) and also the Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge. These programmes are a fantastic way to build awareness of careers in cyber-security, and to encourage people to build the skills that will make them attractive to employers. These initiatives have a brilliant reputation of attracting high volume of female participants and BT has hired some great talent through these programmes.  

BT also sees it as essential that once it has recruited people, it does whatever it can to support them. Making them feel valued and included is key to unlocking their potential and ultimately retaining employees. BT has seen some of its initiatives, such as its Disability and Carers Passports (which help our people move around BT) and its Maternity Handbook showcased as industry best practice, and used by other companies to improve their employees' lives. BT has  also pledged its commitment to making working conditions better for pregnant women and new mums, while its employee volunteering programme brings it together with its local communities.

Attracting neurodiverse people into cyber- security 

BT also recognises the skills that neurologically diverse candidates can bring to security – in particular around complex problem solving and pattern analysis, which are crucial in the industry. So it has introduced policies and processes to support the hiring, development, progression and retention of diverse talent. In June 2018, BT launched a neurodiversity network (as part of its ‘Able2’ Network) to build understanding and remove barriers in the workplace. BT is also involved in an employer’s forum chaired by Cyber Exchange, which aims to improve the attraction, recruitment and retention of neurodivergent employees.

BT has brilliant neurodivergent employees, who are supported by their line managers in making the workplace adjustments required for them to perform at their best. It is  also working to promote our opportunities on platforms specifically targeted at neurodivergent individuals. And in parallel, BT is also looking to ensure that assessors at interviews are reflective of the candidates we want to employ.          

There’s never been a better time to become a cyber professional

BT is the UK’s biggest private security employer, so it’s keenly aware of the challenges and impacts of the cyber-skills gap. However, for professionals in the industry it presents a huge opportunity – there’s great demand for their skills, and some fantastic career development opportunities available. It also means that people with the right aptitude and mindset can re-skill in a new and fast-growing industry. 

It therefore isn’t just about recruiting people with qualifications in security or closely-related fields. In fact, BT is  always looking to hire people who are inquisitive, enjoy a challenge, have an aptitude for problem solving, are able to adapt to new technologies, and have a keen interest in cyber security and the role it plays in modern life. 

For people who don’t have an extensive background or training in cyber-security, BT has a number of junior and entry level roles where this mindset is really the key factor. In particular, BT’s apprenticeship and graduate programmes are excellent opportunities for people to start a career in security without requiring extensive prior security knowledge. BT also invests a lot in training our people – there are several roles where there’s space to develop more skills, and BT works to provide training and career pathways to enable our people to progress.  

And don’t forget that not all roles in cyber are highly technical either – for example, there are opportunities in areas such as sales, strategy or project management too. There are also roles where an IT background, for example network engineering, provides a great foundation for building security skills and knowledge. It is never too late to start or return to a career in cyber.  

BT is extremely proud to support initiatives that help bring new professionals into security, and which increase diversity in the industry. BT has featured again in the Times Top 50 Employees for Women – that's 2017, 2018 and 2019 – and some of BT’s female leaders have recently received Women of the Future, Everywoman in Technology and Rising Stars in Technology awards. Hence we’re delighted to be continuing this tradition by hosting SC Media’s ‘Top 50 Women in Cybersecurity 2019’ event next month, to showcase women’s achievements in the industry and highlight them as role models for future cyber-professionals.

Contributed by Lynn Studd, director, security, BT Security.

*Editor's note. Readers of this article can also look forward to SC Media UK announcing its 50 Most Influential Women in Cyber Security 2019 at a Gala networking event atop the BT Tower in London on  5th November. The full list will also be published on SC Media UK for registered users.

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