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Increasing The Presence Of Women In Cybersecurity

Director-General of the Directorate General for Informatics at the European Commission, Gertrud Ingestad shares her vision on the importance of attracting women into the digital and cybersecurity sectors and the need to increase the visibility of successful women in these fields.
by: Charles-Louis Machuron
photo: EU Commission
featured: Gertrud Ingestad
Digitally speaking, countries are increasingly connected and interconnected. How do you create a shared momentum on cybersecurity?

We cannot build the digital revolution unless it has secure foundations. At a European level, the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) has created what’s known as the European Cybersecurity Month, an annual awareness campaign promoting cybersecurity and awareness of IT security threats among Europeans and organisations every October. It provides resources for citizens to protect themselves online through education and sharing of good practices. This is enhanced internally across all European institutions. In the European Commission, my General Directorate, DG DIGIT, participates actively in the creation of awareness campaigns, articles and events for all staff on cybersecurity issues through the dedicated corporate Cyber Aware Programme. Punctually, the launch of the EU legislation on cybersecurity matters allows us to emphasise the importance of cybersecurity for the Commission in order to achieve its objectives.

What are the main threats and opportunities cybersecurity brings to Europe?

Overall, we see a rise in cyber criminality, cyber espionage and the use of cyber technologies in hybrid attacks. While the defence is slowly improving on many fronts, attacks get more sophisticated and targeted. The European Union has the opportunity to continue to lead the international arena when it comes to the protection of citizens’ rights, the protection of open internet and the drafting of legislation that is consistent with the rapid changes of technology in today’s society. The General Data Protection Regulation, the Cybersecurity Act and the Directive on Security of Network and Information Systems are good examples. Likewise, it is important to acknowledge the challenges that arise with the use of hardware and software not manufactured within our borders. The EU needs to be competitive, while ensuring that the solutions we use comply with our standards.

What do you want to tell to European citizens about cybersecurity?

Our strategies aim to have security embedded at all stages of development of digital solutions. Along with these internal efforts, we are implementing policies that ensure open, safe and secure cyberspaces that will allow citizens to benefit from the digital economies. However, it is necessary that citizens learn to recognise the risks of new technologies and adopt safe online practices.

Involving more girls and women in the digital economy is also at the heart of the EC plan. What message do you want to give them?

We are going digital. If only one sixth of the people working in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector are women, that means that the future will be mainly designed by men, a missed opportunity for social progress and economic growth. DG DIGIT is taking initiatives that challenge gender stereotypes, promote digital skills and advocate for more women in the digital sector. We also organise a special event to put a spotlight on Women in Cyber annually.

I fully encourage women to take the space that will shape everyone’s future, and even more, to pursue management positions, in which women account for only 19.2%. Changing careers to something that involves cybersecurity at a later stage is not only possible but also extraordinarily meaningful for women and young girls who lacked role models around them. I personally made this shift a few years ago and thrive on it every day! Cybersecurity is exciting, fast moving, and needs a broad range of skills like project management, data science, psychology, communication, but most importantly, passion for this domain.

How do we bring in more cyber women talents in Europe?

I believe the number of cyber women talents will increase if we can generate a shift in the minds of young girls and women, making them aware of their importance in the digital world. In the EU, only 1 in 3 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates is a woman. It is fundamental to enhance the visibility of successful women in STEM careers among young girls, support the development of their digital skills and support female entrepreneurs, whose participation, leadership and investment in the digital sector is lower than in other sectors. It is equally important to implement policies that allow us to close the pay gap, since women in the ICT sector earn 19% lesser than men.

This article was first published in the Silicon Luxembourg magazineGet a copy now!

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