When I started my career in technology 20 years ago, it was common when I walked into a meeting room for me to be the only Black person present.
Most of the time I was also the only woman in the room. And often the youngest, too.
Two decades later, while I may no longer be the youngest person at the meeting, not much else has changed in the industry. In my view this lack of diversity is a problem on multiple levels, and also troubling considering the number of opportunities and the promising careers that are available across the innovation economy.
A growing need yet talent is hard to find
According to a 2019 study¹ by a non-profit international association for information security, there are roughly 2.8 million cyber professionals employed across 11 major world economies, including Canada.
Furthermore, the same study found that in order to meet the cybersecurity needs of the public and private sectors in these markets, the industry would need to find professionals to fill as many as four million job opportunities.
This talent shortage is happening when the demand for cybersecurity professionals has never been greater. The same study found that the cyber workforce will need to grow more than 145% to meet the global demand, and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic made remote working, along with moving more of our daily purchases and interactions with anything from hospitals to shops, and banks online, the norm.
So, as cyber threats and the need to keep sensitive information out of the wrong hands increases, the question becomes: how do we in the cyber and tech industry find and retain the necessary professionals to safeguard the security of our most valuable information?
One way is to engage more professionals from groups that don't typically choose technology and cybersecurity careers as a profession: namely women, and people from diverse communities.
The fact is, women make up less than a quarter (24%) of the overall cybersecurity workforce in North America, Latin America, and the Asia Pacific regions, according to a 2018 Women in Cybersecurity report by (ISC)2. The same organization found that in the U.S., just 9% of cybersecurity workers self-identified as African American or Black, 4% as Hispanic and 8% as Asian in a report from 2018.²
How do we increase the number of professionals who are women and from diverse communities to fill these crucial roles?
Key business players and organizations in technology and cybersecurity must do more to address this talent gap by increasing diversity in these fields. They can do this first by better engaging people from underrepresented communities on the career opportunities available and by speaking on the skills needed to thrive, and secondly, by retaining this talent by creating an inclusive work culture.
Unknown tech and cyber opportunities
In a 2018 survey of more than 520 millennials by ProtectWise – a cloud-based cybersecurity company – the "vast majority of respondents" said they were interested in technology related careers, including video game development (33%), computer science (21%) and engineering (15%). However, only about 9% of the millennial respondents shared that they were interested in a career in cybersecurity.
One reason for this lack of interest by millennials, including those from diverse communities, may be their limited exposure to the industry and the careers it has to offer. After all, 65% of the respondents in the ProjectWise survey of millennials claimed they weren’t offered any field-related courses in their universities which could indicate a lack of exposure to them.
One of the first jobs I had was working for a business distributing time-sensitive digital media across North America. The media could not be shared prior to official release dates. My role was focused on data security, and quality control, which led to other roles in law enforcement and healthcare. Keeping data safe, protecting privacy, and handling highly sensitive information were common themes in these roles.
The truth is I followed a personal desire to protect people's privacy very early in my career. Using technology to protect data is still is at the heart of what I love about cybersecurity, but if the emphasis had been placed on job titles over the skills needed to fulfill these roles, I likely would never have been aware of them because many people in my family were nurses and teachers so there was limited exposure to these fields.
Recruiters in the technology and cybersecurity fields can help educate potential recruits by showing them that these kinds of roles are about more than artificial intelligence and machine learning. They're about problem solving, thinking creatively, and can be about pursuing a personal or higher calling, for example, to protect our valuable data.
I would love to see recruiters also being more active in getting these opportunities in front of more diverse talent. How could you know that you want to be a Watch, Phishing or Threat Intel Analyst, for example, if you don’t know these roles exist?
Cybersecurity talent at TD
TD is working to solve some of these issues by creating greater diversity in the industry.
For example, this year through the TD Ready Commitment (the Bank's corporate citizenship platform), a $900,000 donation was made to ACCES Employment's Women in Technology Program. The organization is designed to help newcomers and refugees participate in the Canadian economy, and focuses on improving income stability through future-skills development, providing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) training for underrepresented groups.
In 2018, this organization also received a $1 million grant from the TD Ready Challenge, to help develop tomorrow's cybersecurity talent.
I am also proud that TD is supportive of me serving as Chair of the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism (CILAR), which helps to inform strategies that connect people from Black, Indigenous, and other racially diverse communities with the innovation sector to help create greater equity.
TD is also a founding sponsor of BLACK HXOUSE, a specialized leadership and entrepreneurial skills development initiative aimed at empowering individuals from BIPOC communities with mentorship, tools, learning and networking opportunities, and the opportinities they need to help activate their talents.
But getting opportunities in front of more diverse talent and attracting them is only the first step. Tech leaders also need to recognize that diversity of experience and thought is a massive strength for organizations maintaining inclusive environments.
Within TD, Diversity and Inclusion are core values. We believe our unique and inclusive culture starts with great colleagues who feel engaged, take pride in their work and feel respected and valued for who they are. By attracting, mentoring and developing people from all backgrounds, skillsets and mindsets, we believe we are ultimately creating richer, more inclusive experiences for our colleagues.
Afterall, everyone needs to feel welcomed, respected and valued in order to help close this important talent gap. The future I envision includes workspaces with people of all ages, genders and backgrounds – just like our communities.
¹Study entitled: The Cybersecurity Workforce Study, by The International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2.
²Study entitled: Innovation Through Inclusion: The Multicultural Cybersecurity Workforce. An (ISC)2 Global Information Security Workforce Study.