Expert Insight: How Diverse Leadership Can Benefit the Security Sector

In today’s business landscape, diverse leadership is essential for driving innovation, improving decision-making, and maintaining a competitive advantage. Historically, STEM sectors have been male-dominated, with strict job descriptions and rigid hiring processes making it difficult for minorities to break into the industry. This has caused many organisations within the industry to have all-male leadership, which can in turn create a culture of bias. This limits innovation and can ultimately hinder their performance in the sector.

Whilst cybersecurity is still male-dominated, we’re starting to see positive changes regarding female representation in leadership positions – with 28% of women currently holding C-suite positions globally. After five years in academia, I transitioned to cybersecurity in 2014 and started in the industry as a personal assistant to Hornetsecurity’s CEO, Daniel Hofmann. In this role I gained valuable insight into business strategy and management, which helped me progress through the company as Head of Product Management and, ultimately, to the position of CTO. My journey at Hornetsecurity has provided me with a wealth of experience, unique opportunities and exposure to different facets of the business which means I’ve learned the essential qualities needed to succeed as CTO.

The qualities of a successful CTO

Regardless of gender, there are three skills any CTO must possess: flexibility, appetite to learn and good communication. In cybersecurity, clients require us to be dynamic, responsive, and knowledgeable on the current and prospective threat landscape, so flexibility is a crucial quality to have as a CTO. The cybersecurity landscape is constantly changing and evolving, and a CTO in this industry must be able to adapt their work in response to developing market conditions and emerging trends. As the industry’s leaders, proactivity is also significant to anticipate and address future challenges such as navigating the growing malicious use of AI or new attack methods.

Having a willingness to learn is also essential. I’ve always been passionate about research and this helps me to lead by example. I consistently wish to establish a culture of learning and development in my organisation to encourage the same passion for knowledge in my teams.

A large part of my role includes liaising with stakeholders and customers, so having a good level of communication is essential. Though we need to have advanced technical knowledge as CTOs, we also need to be able to communicate highly technical subjects in simple, effective ways to help people from all backgrounds align streams of work or a company’s vision.

By prioritising diversity, CTOs can more easily discourage prejudice and create a workplace where often marginalised groups, including women, can thrive. Senior leadership, including CTOs, should strive to encourage employees to follow their passions, regardless of barriers and biases that have historically discouraged them.

The tangible benefits of diverse leadership

Due to the increased need for innovation and creativity in the cybersecurity industry, it’s even more significant to establish a progressive culture. Diverse teams are equipped with varied backgrounds and different experiences which give them the ability to approach challenges from multiple angles. This varied outlook brings a host of benefits to an organisation including greater innovation, creativity and better problem-solving skills. These varied perspectives help us to stay ahead of emerging malicious techniques and inform stakeholders about industry trends and current threats.

Strategies to address diversity challenges in the cybersecurity sector

When people feel seen, empowered, and heard, they tend to be more invested in what they do.  At Hornetsecurity, we provide solutions, but we remember that people create these solutions. In many parts of the world, girls and other minorities are often turned away from science and tech by teachers and parents. Research from The Institution of Engineering and Technology shares that 45% of women aren’t encouraged to think about STEM careers at school, and 32% are put off by how male-dominated the industry is.

Recognising and dealing with biases when female security professionals are applying is imperative. Recruitment shouldn’t hinge on identity, yet without adequate self-awareness, bias can infiltrate HR processes and lead to non-diverse teams who run the risk of ‘groupthink.’ Flexible and inclusive work policies are part of making people feel cared for, especially caregivers, whether it involves offering remote work options, flexible working hours, or comprehensive parental leave policies. These perks go far in making a company a lot more attractive.

Changing attitudes around female participation in the technology sector will inevitably help narrow the skills gap. STEM businesses are uniquely positioned to recognise and fight biases to create new opportunities for minorities in the tech sector. Of course, communities, schools, and workplaces also need to help change attitudes and encourage female participation in STEM subjects from a young age.

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