dark multi-tonal background with the image of LHL staff Ashley Mataya and the words WOMEN IN CYBER

We’ve all seen the viral Tik-Tok, Youtube and Instagram clips. The soap dispenser that finds it difficult to recognize darker skin tones, and the form fields with character limits, shutting out those of us with lengthy names. Often, the reasons why these bugs creep into our digital systems are numerous and quite complex. Still, we can all agree that representation matters. The more reflective developer, data and cyber security teams are of the societies in which their products will be released, the better the digital experience will be for all of us.

In general, tech and the STEM field have been predominantly male-dominated. According to Randstad, women comprise less than 25% of people in STEM careers globally. While 34% of Canadians with a STEM degree are women, they make up only 23% of Canadians working in science and technology.

As part of our series celebrating Cyber Security month, we sat down with Ashley Mataya, Senior Manager of Cyber Partnerships at Lighthouse Labs, to talk about her job and her thoughts and outlook on gender diversity in Cyber Security.

Ashley Mataya - Cyber Security Whisperer

Ashley Mataya has spent over five years in various support roles for Cyber Security organizations. In her role as Senior Manager of Cyber Partnerships at Lighthouse Labs, she dedicates her efforts to establishing a steady and reliable pipeline of highly skilled cyber talent for the organizations that need them. Operating from both sides of the aisle, she works closely with graduating Cyber Security students at Lighthouse Labs to help land ideal entry-level positions and develops and manages relationships with the organizations that require their skills.

Her experience and job function gives her a unique perspective on the cyber security industry in general. It makes her an ideal candidate to comment on the representation of women in the tech sector.

Noting that female representation within the tech industry has historically hovered between the 20-30% mark, our first question was if she saw these numbers as reflective of the Cyber Security Industry.

Ashley Mataya: "Yes it's across all IT- not sure if this is the exact percentage but it sounds about right. We also know that a large number of women tend to leave cyber careers within their first 5 years of working because of the lack of diversity in the field."

The business case for gender diversity in leadership has long been established. A report by Mckinsey in 2019 found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. Ashley says we see women get into leadership positions at a faster rate in cyber, but the pool to choose from is very small because of the lack of women entering the field and because of retention issues in the industry.

Wondering where to start, and what sort of entry-level jobs you can get as a new Cyber Security Professional? We break it down here.

On Gender Diversity Challenges In The Tech Industry

The last few years brought to public attention some examples of sexism within the tech space with high-profile scandals at some of the top gaming companies in North America, including Riot Games, Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft. While these might seem like extreme manifestations of the problem, the industry is notorious for its tech bro culture. A TrustRadius report recently found that women are four times more likely than men to consider gender bias an obstacle to promotion. We asked Ashley her take on why the cyber security sector struggles to attract and retain female talent beyond a 20-30% mark.

"I think like a lot of industries we have a branding issue with cyber careers, cyber is are often sold as a hacker that lives in a basement causing trouble, as opposed to a career that involves problem solving, team work, continuous learning and a career that helps others to protect their information, and companies to protect their customers."

You can't be what you can't see Ashley says, responding about some of the unique challenges women face in getting into the cyber security space. “there is a lack of mentors for women in the industry.”

On attracting and retaining more female talent in the industry, her advice to the government and key players in the sector is to start younger.

“We need to make sure women and girls learn about these great careers at a younger age- if women don't know about careers in cyber how would they know to be educated for these careers”

Read Part One of our Cyber Security Series where we speak with Lighthouse Labs Alum Tracy Copeland on her journey to becoming a Cyber Security Professional.

Outlook And Advice To Tech Hopefuls

According to a report by Cybersecurity Ventures, women comprise about 25% of the global cyber security workforce. In Canada, that number is much lower, with just about 10% of the cyber security workforce being women. With an estimated 50% of women dropping out of the tech workforce within the first four years of their careers, it cannot be overstated how much work remains to be done in the industry.

Ashley says the best thing about her job is helping people find early success in their new career paths.

“I wouldn't be where I am today without the help from some really amazing women around me, and I just hope to pay it forward.”

Her outlook on gender diversity within the sector is positive, as she believes there will be a lot of improvement in the future due to the efforts of organizations in Canada and around the world. "Industry knows that efforts need to be made ignorer to attack more women into these careers, and they are putting their money where their mouth is"

The good news is that the demand for Cyber Security professionals is set to increase as we march toward a digital future. Many of the structural barriers to entry are now being removed. Usually, a career in IT would involve many years of study at the College level, often at highly prohibitive costs. Nowadays, even without any tech background, a 12-week Bootcamp at Lighthouse Labs will set you on the path to success as a Cyber Security professional.

Ashley's advice to women and young girls looking to get into the field is to begin by doing your research.

“Cyber careers are for everyone. What are some tech organizations and companies that you can join to learn more? There are some great organizations like Women in Cyber Society for example that are here to support you in your journey to get into cyber. Learn about the different areas of cyber that interest you. Once you have a goal in mind, it's easier to achieve it.. where do you want to go, where do you want to end up- then build a work back plan”

Allowing a slight bias, our final question to her was why anyone looking to switch to a career in tech should choose Cyber Security over the other tech options.

“There is a lot of room to grow in cyber, and you can grow your career quickly, take every opportunity, say yes to every challenge and go for it. You will see how fast your career grows because you are a go getter”

Ready to begin your journey to becoming a Cyber Security Professional? Download the Cyber Security Bootcamp curriculum here, check out the different ways you can finance your career switch, or click the button below to get started!