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Is a women-only cyber security course discriminatory?

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Here at Capslock, we’re super passionate about enabling women to start a new career in tech and cyber security. Our plans to run a women-only cohort were announced on LinkedIn earlier in 2020 and the reaction was startling.  The revelation of this plan on LinkedIn sparked a flurry of comments hailing the women-only course as “discriminatory” and even “illegal”.

 

We know it’s a huge journalistic faux pas to begin a piece of writing with a definition, but sometimes, needs must.

‘Discrimination’ can be defined as “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.”

The main theme of the objections echoed a mentality that cyber simply needs more people, regardless of gender. We respectfully disagree.

Whilst it’s true that there is a significant and accelerating skills gap, and our entire ethos is built around tackling this issue, if current trends continue, “more people” will just result in “more men”. It is estimated that around 90% of UK cyber professionals are male, and intrinsic, subconscious prejudices in all aspects of society are still dissuading many women from pursuing careers in cyber. What our critics see as prejudicial exclusion against male students, we see as an effort to tackle the prejudicial attitudes which necessitate a women-only cohort. Is it ‘discriminatory’ to try and bring some balance to a career field which is currently male-dominated?

 

Because of the current gender bias, is it not prudent to give more ‘equity’ to women, until this bias reduces to a more acceptable level?

Eliza May Austin, Founder of the Ladies of London Hacking Society, commented;

 

“The sheer fact so many women, in such a woman void industry, face such a huge backlash for women-focused initiatives is evidence that they are in fact needed.”

 

We agree with Eliza’s comments above, and we agree that this approach is not “reverse discrimination” as others have so called it. We can elucidate by explaining why we feel cyber would benefit from a more gender-balanced workforce. The long and short of it is that we believe companies and industries flourish when the widest possible array of backgrounds, opinions, and areas of expertise are represented.

 

As Priscilla Moriuchi, Director of Strategic Threat Development at Recorded Future says;

 

“The argument in favour of greater gender equality in cyber security is really not one of right vs. wrong or men vs. women, rather, it’s that having more women in the workplace is good for business. Diversity in perspectives, leadership, and experience is good for business.”

 

In the long run, we are not excluding anybody. Our future cohorts will be open to everybody. However, we’re committed to addressing the imbalance of female cyber operatives, in an effort to help strengthen the landscape of cyber professionals through diversity.

 

It’s also worth noting that a greater proportion of the comments surrounding our female-only cohort plan were supportive. It seems that the majority of cyber individuals who have heard of our proposal are largely in favour of bringing more women into the field. It is our hope that we can promote this attitude as our education initiative grows, tackling some of the prejudicial barriers which have previously prevented more women from feeling welcome in the world of cyber security.

 

We are taking our cue from Rose Elliott, senior director of product engineering of tenable.io.

 

“At the end of the day, the only way to change the industry is for more women to get in and break down those barriers,”.

 

Here at Capslock, we intend to do everything we can to help women do just that!

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