The digital future presents one of the greatest challenges to global security that world has ever faced. Cybersecurity has moved from being a back office team of a few people trying to protect a few databases and applications from disruption to being at the forefront of every government agency, multinational company and leading economic sectors.
With this rapid growth of the digital landscape and increasing cyber threats, organizations across the globe are struggling to recruit, retain, train, build, and supply a qualified cyber security workforce.
By 2022, the Center for Cyber Safety and Education have predicted there will be 1.8 million unfilled cybersecurity positions. Much of this is in part due to globally low number of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) oriented graduates and exaggerated by a significant gap in individuals seeking to join the cybersecurity ranks.
Further, the global cybersecurity labor supply is negatively impacted by a continued perception that only candidates with ten years of experience in the field can be of any value. While some of the issues are more about perspectives on building a cyber workforce, the real world problem lies with developing human capital in cyber security.
The opportunity for MENA based organizations and governments to set the global pace and trend for inclusion of women in the cyber workforce remains readily apparentWayne Loveless
Women in cyber
A golden opportunity lies in capturing the potential of women STEM candidates in MENA to address the workforce shortage in cybersecurity. Over the past few years, there has been a steady increase in the number of women in STEM aligned cyber educational background.
According to data compiled by researchers from New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), the percentage of women graduates in engineering related degrees in the Middle East is very high, compared with the US and Europe.
In Saudi Arabia, for example, the number of women with degrees in Computer Sciences reaches thousands each year and many universities have introduced academic programs and degrees in network security specialties. Data from a leading Saudi university indicates that 20 percent of all local computer science graduates over the last five years are female.
With so many potential technically qualified candidates being produced by the academic systems in MENA, organizations and governments should develop and implement programs of mentorship, apprenticeship, training, development, and internship that can set a foundation for building a qualified and locally sourced cyber security workforce.
These initiatives and campaigns to attract and further develop cyber skills present an ideal solution to the cyber workforce challenge by expanding into previously untapped resources.
In the MENA region in particular, organizations and government entities have the prospect of countering misplaced international perspectives of women’s rights in the region, and demonstrating through action how these perceptions can be changed, all while securing their national and regional future in the advancing digital economies.
With the confluence of the global shortage of qualified and skilled labor and leadership in the cybersecurity field, the higher percentage of STEM qualified women in the MENA region, and the cultural evolution that is embracing women as an integral part of the workforce, the MENA region could be a leading example of best practice for women in cybersecurity.
Leaders in organizations are beginning to identify this untapped resource as a key element to building a strong, diverse, and technically proficient workforce. While further work is yet to be done, the opportunity for MENA based organizations and governments to set the global pace and trend for inclusion of women in the cyber workforce remains readily apparent.
Leaders should capitalize on this opportunity and demonstrate to the world that not only can women participate in greater numbers within the cyber security ranks, but they can also represent the future of the field and lead the way across the digital landscape to ensure a secure future for MENA.
Wafa Al Showaib and Nora Alosaimi of EY Cybersecurity Advisory contributed to this piece.
Wayne Loveless is cybersecurity leader at EY Saudi Arabia.