Women4Cyber is a non-profit European private foundation aiming at promoting, encouraging, and supporting the participation of women in cybersecurity.
Cybersecurity suffers from a huge skills shortage. The gap, projected to reach 1.8 million worldwide by 2022 and 350,000 in Europe alone, is exacerbated by a lack of female representation, with women making up only 24 % of the workforce, according to the (ISC)² ‘2019 Women in Cybersecurity’ report (for Europe, the percentage is even lower—7 %).
Women are essential to closing the skills gap, from a gender equality point of view and from a practical one. Women cannot be side-lined in a field that offers competitive pay, growth opportunities, job security, exciting day-to-day tasks, and the chance to make a difference. From a practical point of view, the skills shortage simply cannot be bridged without involving half of the available workforce.
Women4Cyber started as an initiative within the European Cyber Security Organisation (ECSO)‘s Working Group 5, which focuses on ‘education, training, awareness, and cyber ranges’ as a direct response to the growing cybersecurity skills gap.
Following a very positive response to the initiative, the Women4Cyber Foundation was established in September 2019 to further pursue the above-mentioned objectives and to work towards a common goal to encourage and promote the skilling, up-skilling, and re-skilling of girls and women towards cybersecurity education and professions.
Women4Cyber is a community-driven initiative, relying on sponsorship and donations to carry out its activities.
To target the inherent complexity of cybersecurity and meet the growing demand for cybersecurity professionals in Europe, Women4Cyber focuses on six workstreams:
- Awareness, best practices, and female ‘Role Models’
- Tailored training programmes for women
- Women on the cybersecurity job market
- Women in cybersecurity research & innovation, emerging technologies, and cyberchallenges
- EU and national policies in line with Women4Cyber’s messages
- International and national chapters & partnerships
As part of the first workstream, in 2020, we launched a social media campaign to showcase female ‘Role Models’ in cybersecurity. The next step of this campaign will be the release of the book ‘Hacking Gender Barriers: Europe’s Top Cyberwomen.’ The book, to be published next autumn, will highlight over 100 women and their achievements, in the hope of inspiring more women to join the field.
Along the same line, in collaboration with the European Commission’s DG CNECT, we launched the Women4Cyber Registry of Experts in July 2020 to identify and showcase a European community of women professionals in cybersecurity.
The Women4Cyber Registry of Experts gathers women from different profiles and can serve as a reference point for expert groups, event organisers, and media, as well as for collaboration and business opportunities. It was endorsed by the European Commission’s Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, and Commissioner Thierry Breton. It has recently been migrated to the Cybersecurity Atlas platform of the European Commission with improved functionalities.
Consistent with our awareness efforts and to shed light on specific content and topics, we started the W4C Masterclass Series with a Role Model in November 2020.
These events take place monthly or bi-monthly and are hosted online for 1.5 h, always focusing on a specific topic. The masterclasses are given by our ‘Role Models,’ either top-level experts or members of our Council, from very diverse sectors and backgrounds.
- Domitilla Benigni (CEO & COO of Elettronica Group and President of CY4GATE) talked about the challenge of strategic autonomy in the digital age and Europe’s quest for technology sovereignty, as well as the role of women in it.
- Līga Raita Rozentāle (Microsoft’s Senior Director of European Governmental Affairs) discussed the opportunities to strengthen the European cybersecurity sector through cooperation between EU institutions and member States, the private sector, academia, and civil society.
- Elena Santiago Cid (Director General at CEN and CENELEC and Vice President of the Women4Cyber Foundation) offered an overview of the diverse world of standardisation and emphasised the value European standards bring to cybersecurity.
This is just a snapshot. To date, we have hosted 11 masterclasses, the recordings of which are posted on our website. The series will be restarted after the summer break.
During the summer months, and in collaboration with SheLeadsTech, we are hosting ‘The Social Cocktail,’ a series of short and relaxed events featuring a cocktail/mocktail demonstration, good music, networking, trivia, and prizes. They have the objective of connecting security professionals from around the world in a fun, stress-free virtual environment.
After the summer, we will start our newest activity—a six-month mentorship pilot programme to provide support and guidance for those looking to develop their cybersecurity career.
Last but not least, one of our biggest achievements, following our sixth workstream, is the establishment and coordination of international and national chapters. Being aware that every cybersecurity ecosystem is different, we encourage the creation of chapters that can actively implement our mission and strategies at a local level. Since chapters are staffed with local experts, they are ideally placed to determine the priorities and approaches best suited to implement our mission in their area of action.
Since September 2020, we have approved ten national chapters, in Spain, North Macedonia, Albania, Luxembourg, Serbia, Lithuania, Italy, France, Portugal, and Kosovo. Seven of them have already been launched and are fully operational.
Our chapters are led by an extraordinary group of high-level expert women working in cybersecurity from all over Europe, including Eduvigis Ortiz, Ljubica Pendaroska, Klorenta Janushi Pashaj, Jelena Matone, Svetlana Tesic, Inga Žukauskienė, Domitilla Benigni, Valeria Faure-Muntian, Cristina Almeida, or Drenusha Salihu, to name a few.
The chapter coordinators meet regularly to collaborate and exchange best practices. The immense growth and rapid developments of the national chapters show the interest and eagerness of the community to contribute to a greater gender balance in cybersecurity across Europe.
Our activities are a drop in the ocean in the struggle for gender neutrality in cybersecurity, but with the joined forces of all women and men involved, we believe that we can make a real change. In fact, statistics do not lie—the change is already happening.
The author, María Saskia Brugman, is Project & Communication Assistant at the Women4Cyber Foundation. You can connect with Saskia on LinkedIn and follow the activities of Women4Cyber on Twitter, @Women4Cyber.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of the Global Cyber Alliance.