The shortage of skilled IT workers has been a serious problem for years. Smaller companies in more rural regions in particular often have difficulties finding qualified employees to fill vacancies.
This not only affects day-to-day business, but also prevents companies from implementing important projects for digital transformation. More women in the IT industry could be the solution to the problem for an industry that is longing for new talent. The current pandemic could provide an opportunity to initiate change.
Pandemic offers opportunities for change
National lockdowns and social distancing have driven many workers into the home office and turned working parents into part-time teachers. What was once considered unthinkable in a professional environment is now accepted as human: the postman rings the doorbell during the zoom meeting, children appear at the desk and demand attention, and cats find their way in front of the web camera.
It is very likely that the home office will be used significantly more often than before, even after the corona crisis. Not only could this improve the work-life balance of employees, but it could also help eliminate two major problems in IT: the shortage of skilled workers and the increase in the proportion of women in the industry.
A specific look at cybersecurity – one of the most important growth sectors in IT – underscores the depth of the problem, but also the potential opportunities for everyone involved. According to new studies by ISC2 (The International Information System Security Certification Consortium), the global labor shortage in the field of cybersecurity will be 3.12 million employees in 2020 – a decrease of over four million employees compared to the previous year. Nonetheless, this is still a huge number and an ongoing source of trouble for organizations desperately searching for employees.
The value of different talents
Like many other industries, cybersecurity needs to hire more women at all levels. Starting with the women who are at the very beginning of their careers to more established, experienced professionals. However, one of the main obstacles for many women to make a career is returning to work after a long break. The reason for this is usually the employer’s lack of flexibility: after maternity leave, mothers actually have two full-time jobs – one at work and one at home. However, part-time work is rather a rarity in the IT and security industry, and so far it has been frowned upon in many companies to work from home. And while maternity leave is not the only reason to take time off, the industry today does have the opportunity to use technology and targeted programs to help professionals return to work or reintegrate.
Return to work programs are rare
These return to work programs, while not new, are still rare. They were originally set up by larger organizations to help women return to work after having a baby. Today, however, they are often extended to all women after a long hiatus for a wider range of situations. To recruit skilled women, some larger companies have started offering more extensive support programs in which they advertise permanent positions with part-time or flexible working hours.
These initiatives typically combine flexible hours with training, mentoring, communities within an organization, and other support. Smaller companies can also become more aware that the integration of women into the company can be an advantage and close the skills gap among experienced employees. This can be of enormous benefit to employers. Because many specialists already have skills that make them interesting for new tasks. For example, there is a growing trend that specialists are moving from general IT to cybersecurity. People with experience in help desk roles are a good example: The creative and helpful mindset that works well in these cases, as well as the IT knowledge they bring with them, provide an ideal foundation for a career in IT security. It is up to the industry to ensure that these opportunities are offered equally to everyone, regardless of gender and the station in their career path.
Automation is an important growth area
Similarly, IT security automation is developing into an important growth area in the industry. It helps professionals deal more easily with the everyday aspects of their work and supports them in completing prioritized tasks. This will open specific jobs for “security automation” that don’t focus so much on technical know-how, but instead require logical thought processes to understand what’s happening at a higher level. These roles could be ideally suited for women, who can leverage cross-functional skills from previous roles.
The world becomes a talent pool
With remote working likely to remain an option in most organizations and the “new normal” in many places in the long run, senior managers and HR departments now have a very good opportunity to diversify their workforce by attracting talent from around the world. This can be beneficial as diverse teams can bring creativity and new perspectives to industries like cybersecurity. In addition, women usually have a high emotional IQ and a high degree of empathy, which can promote teamwork. Studies have shown that diverse teams make better decisions 87 percent of the time.
Despite the enormous challenges that COVID-19 brings with it, the impetus it has created behind work cultures with better balance, greater flexibility and more empathy could well provide a welcome additional impetus for women in the IT field. Both in general and in cybersecurity in particular. Those organizations that act now to build and maintain equality in cybersecurity and IT will be much better able to cope with the shortage of skilled workers in the future.