Where are the women in cybersecurity leadership roles?

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Where are the women in cybersecurity leadership roles?

This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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It’s easy to feel like everything has already been said about why we need more women in cybersecurity. I’ve been explaining the economic benefits of hiring women as engineers, bringing in women as senior information security leaders, and going to work for women as board members and national influencers for a long time. 

I felt so much like I didn’t know what was left to say on women in cybersecurity. Women in my field have been pointing out the efficiencies, the improved problem space, and the improved outcomes for years. 

More on the Forum Network: Rethinking the Economy post-COVID: Time for a Revolutionary Reset by Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, Chief Executive Officer, Plan International

So I went and asked my husband what to say.

Stay with me on this one. I said, “I can’t think what’s left to say on the topic. Women have been decreasing in their representation in cybersecurity C-suite roles and board memberships for years, and the entire trend of women in technology and engineering positions has been steadily decreasing, at least in the United States, since 1984. There’s been no real improvement on about 1% women in senior engineering positions holding steady for a decade”. And my lovely spouse said to me, “Well, if you’re writing a piece for the OECD, what’s happened with the European numbers over the last year? What’s happened to women in cybersecurity according to the statistics during the pandemic? Can you talk about that?” I was drying a dinner plate and I stopped, shoved the plate and the towel at him, and ran to a keyboard because I realised what the problem was.

Reader, I cannot. I can’t talk about what happened to senior women in cybersecurity during the pandemic because they’ve all disappeared. 

It will be decades before the career gaps experienced by women and primary caretakers during this pandemic are fully erased, and we’re back to the “normal” gender pay gap. 

During the pandemic, every technical woman with children I know has stepped back from her job. Every single one. She’s already being paid 81% of what her male spouse is being paid, if she’s a married parent. Women who are primary caregivers are buried in childcare, family care, and the absolutely never-ending drudgery of cleaning the house. Their spouse makes more than they do, so it makes sense that if one spouse must pull back from the workforce, it should be the one making less money.

It’s a cruel and economically inefficient joke that during this worldwide pandemic, the women and non-gender binary people who have the most to gain from upskilling and negotiating new salaries and charging ahead in the workforce—because the difference between their realised and potential values is so much greater due to discrimination—are the ones losing the most ground. 

It will be decades before the career gaps experienced by women and primary caretakers during this pandemic are fully erased, and we’re back to the “normal” gender pay gap. 

In the early 1990s, Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen posited that there were more than 100 million missing women in the world based on sex-selective abortions, undereducation and health care provision to women, and a multitude of factors that prioritised the health and education of boys over girls. As academics, professionals of all kinds, essential workers and health care experts are again noticing that women are going missing, we have to ask ourselves: so what? Why does it matter that women are missing from cybersecurity? 

I have pointed out that the potential gains in efficiencies in salary and benefits for women being properly compensated are far higher than for men. But without the perspectives of diverse professionals in cybersecurity, gaps and problem spaces remain unidentified and, statistically speaking, are larger than they would be with the active participation of all the potential perspectives in the field. Inventions arising out of mixed teams, or women-only groups, appear to have wider technological breadth (and may therefore be more economically valuable) and higher impact from a technological viewpoint than those in which only men are involved.

Read the report: OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2020

What can we do to solve this situation?

  1. When vaccines for COVID-19 come out, lobby to have child care workers in as early a priority tier as possible, in order to support primary care givers for children and families (most of whom are women) to have an outsised impact on economic gains.
  2. When hiring and creating leadership roles in the next decade, acknowledge women and primary care givers/workers as being so essential that human beings couldn’t do without them, let alone companies. 
  3. Make your protections against groupthink in your organisations robust and antifragile by ensuring that you have more than one diverse voice in each section/team/location of your organisation. Millennial men expect to spend as much time as their spouses on child and family care, so don’t be surprised if requests for family leave come from an unexpected quarter. Hire, promote and sponsor multiple people from all parts of society, education and the gender spectrum to strengthen your organisation’s impact and resilience.

Finally, none of this is fair. Stop trying to make it fair: instead, try to make your solutions just and robust. No single organisation can fix all of the horrors and unfairnesses visited upon women and families during this period of global mourning and recovery—but each person can choose to see the future as different than the track we are on now. Women belong everywhere in cybersecurity to make the world more efficient, to make problem space more known and to keep the world safer than it would be without our voices added to the chorus.

Related topics

Tackling COVID-19 Privacy & Cybersecurity Gender Equality

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Go to the profile of Hirona Matayoshi
almost 3 years ago

One of my colleagues in the field of research, who is a woman just like me, told me that it is hard to live the life of a single woman and that I would have to be mentally strong just like her.  Those were words of wisdom but also sadness of reality that I many other women will face during their life-time. Now, looking back, she was reassuring me I'd have to break through the cracks alone in hope  to pull up the next generation through the cracks which is something she couldn't do.  She had to protect herself and her family and you can't blame her.  She is a professor and I left her university for better opportunities and now I'm a professor just like her.  We women are alone in the corporate system playing their games with set outcomes.  

You see in Japan, we women have to balance our existence within the male society we live in. 

"Yes, it sucks". 

Just look at our government's Diet, as always the majority are men!  We have famous "women's colleges" where the administration are all led by men!  The men are teaching us women "how to be their singular ideal woman".  The women, that are barely existing in our Diet, are all women that the "men designated as the singular ideal woman".  That is what every women in my country is expected to balance.  I'm sure that this perception of the "ideal woman" from the male perspective exists in every country. However, gender issues are insane in my mine.

In Japan, "women are forced to choose between marriage and work".  Single women would like to marry but if we get pregnant than we lose our job.  The corporate companies led by a male team will choose a woman to tell a woman that if she is pregnant then she has to quit her job. 

Refer to "Studies Assesses 'Maternity Harassment' in Japanese Workplaces"


Hence, the concept of "maternity harassment" becomes a mirage in a fog.  This is the insane part.  Hence, the low population of Japan.  Men are forced to stay at work and work long hours, because that is the "ideal singular man".  He never sees his wife yet alone his kids, so kids don't even know him but they love their mom.  Every human resource in my country is tethered to our profession.  The work-life balance is non-existent.  Now, I'm just tethered to my computer under the era-of pandemic.  My computer is connected to my smart phone so the office can contact me for 24 hours.  In Japan, we were tethered to our jobs before the pandemic and now it is for 24 hours as well.  What changed was whether or not a woman was financially tech savvy or not.

That is our reality.  We are being forced into extinction through corporatism. Here I am, life with a computer doing all my office work on-line, classes on-line, and calling my family and friends on-line.  Our life is now, on-line for 24 hours.  That is what I sacrificed to be where I am today, a professor 24 hours.  I'm not the only one.  That is what my colleague understood about me and about her own daughter and sons.  That we are tethered just like she was and is.  She was the lucky generation.  It may look like the pandemic is forcing women off track but that's not it.  Our office, corporate, administrative environment used the pandemic as an excuse to kick the financially tech weak out and keep "the computer savvy 24 hour financially capable strong minded women" to stay on-line or in-line. 

In Japan, there is a lack of daycare and with this pandemic it is very difficult to trust the daycare since they are not "all" licensed by the government.  Hence, even if women had kids they simply cannot trust anyone with their kids.  Women have no choice but to stay home since their husbands are corporate slaves just like they were and the others are "hanging on like a cat on hot tin roof" just like me.  Next, they are going to have to face the reality that they won't be able to return since the next generation male or female will take their place.  The weakest and the most powerless women without computer and financial skills will be thrown out.  Corporatism doesn't like risks of losing workers for childbirth yet alone marriage and consideration for family values.  They don't care and Michael Jackson was correct.  Corporatism only cares about those who are willing to hang on.  Female suicides in Japan are rising increasing 80 percent.  They are financially troubled non-tech savvy women under the pandemic losing their jobs.  

You can see the CNN report here:  In Japan, more people died from suicide last month than from Covid in all of 2020 - CNN


Thus, these forums are golden information for governments and corporations to "get in line" for a change while  being forced through the international community of "leaving no one behind"  to assist women in need for an opportunity to hang on but the corporate mind-set needs adjustment for just a little compassion and the consideration for family values.  Hopefully, the OECD will take it's time to promote "female" family values as well.

Professor Hirona Matayoshi

Yokohama National University