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Women continue to be underrepresented in STEM jobs: Study

Feb. 11 is the International Day for Women and Girls in Science
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Sunday (Feb. 11) is International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and globally there are an estimated 3.5 million unfulfilled roles in cybersecurity, yet the UN found that women make up for only 25% of current positions. (Public domain image).

By Radha Agarwal, Black Press Media

Women continue to be underrepresented in sciences and math, and estimates project women will make up only 30 per cent of the global security workforce by 2025.

Sunday (Feb. 11) is International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and globally there are an estimated 3.5 million unfulfilled roles in cybersecurity, yet the UN found that women make up for only 25% of current positions.

Research conducted by the United Nations found that barely 15 per cent of women are in leadership or management positions in science. They also publish less, are paid less for research and do not progress as far in their careers as men.

Jane Arnett, a cybersecurity evangelist in Calgary, has worked in computer sciences for 15 years. She has been in long-term leadership positions in companies like CheckPoint, and is an ardent advocate of increasing women鈥檚 participation in science-related fields: STEM, which includes the studies of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

鈥淭he biggest problem with women getting into cybersecurity is thinking they have to be a genius.鈥

Arnett said she wants to bust the myth about cybersecurity jobs being that one IT incident response person who tackles aggressive hackers in a high pressure situation, which can be intimidating for people just starting off.

鈥淵ou can join a company within administrative or marketing roles and learn through internal training. Like [my] company CheckPoint wherein they offer free mind training and online courses. free You can have access to free training courses online like that of coding, boot camps, workshops and things that can give you a quick certification to enter the industry.鈥

According to Randstad.ca, there is a misconception that there are more women working in STEM jobs than ever before. In reality, the percentage of women graduating from STEM courses has actually dropped from 37% in 1985 (computer sciences) to just 18% (2019).

The 鈥淲omen in IT & Cybersecurity鈥 report found that the biggest hurdle for women is the lack of self confidence in their own abilities and training, particularly in the context of ongoing male dominance in the field of science.

鈥淚鈥檝e seen women have this problem everywhere. This feeling that we have to excell at a job before we apply for it,鈥 says Arnett.

Arnett recalls the time she started off in cybersecurity and attended women-led panels, 鈥渋n all those round tables, it was always the same three faces you would find because there just aren鈥檛 enough women in it, especially in Western Canada.鈥

Arnett noticed that women have a unique perspective of approaching complex problems that actually changes the way things have traditionally been done.

鈥淲e really love to care, we want to make sure we are improving the world around us. We want to ensure services are running, 911 calls are being picked up, the water is clean and safe to drink. These are the kind of things we do everyday in this field.鈥

The Canadian Women鈥檚 Foundation states that a decrease in gender inequality in the workplace may benefit Canada鈥檚 economy by as much as $150 billion by 2026. High-performing businesses tend to have more women in leadership roles: 37 per cent of leaders in higher-performing companies are women, compared to 19 per cent of leaders in lower-ranked companies.

Arnett stressed the importance of connecting with a mentor via LinkedIn or simply attending a science job fair.

鈥淚t鈥檚 incredibly important, the way that women interact with technology is different, the impacts that we have from being online are different, so we need women in the field of cybersecurity, to bring those perspectives and solve those problems.鈥

She emphasized the role of exposing girls to all kinds of problem-solving toys without gender discrimination.

鈥淲hen I was a kid, I wasn鈥檛 allowed to play with legos because it was a boy鈥檚 toy.鈥 Arnett did get to plays with puzzles like jigsaws though.

鈥淭here are a lot of times in a month that I just kind of stop and think this is really just doing a puzzle. I鈥檓 just figuring out how all the pieces work together. It all goes back to that, the fundamental skills.

She said things are changing with the increase in programs like 鈥淕irls Who Code鈥 and 鈥淗acker Girl鈥 that are teaching digital literacy to kids at school. Several online games are doing the same.

鈥淚f your kid likes playing games on the phone. Get them a coding game. Why not?

鈥淭here鈥檚 just nothing stopping the girls from coding or getting into STEM. The IT landscape needs women鈥檚 perspective as they have the ability to zoom into details and look out at the big picture simultaneously. It鈥檚 an incredible, incredible skill.鈥