Government and private companies are ignoring the obvious solution to shoring up Australia’s defences against cyberattack – women, according to new Sapien Cyber Chief Executive Officer Rochelle Fleming.
Ms Fleming, one of the few senior women in the sector, said bringing more female workers into cybersecurity and technology generally was clearly the answer to the critical talent shortage globally. But not enough was being done to encourage female participation.
Despite representing close to 50% of the workforce, recent data shows women make up less than 25% of the cybersecurity workforce globally. More concerning is that the number drops to less than 15% in Australia.
“We are not using all of the resources available to protect ourselves from the real and present danger of cyberattack if we are not recruiting and training women in key cybersecurity roles,” Ms Fleming said.
“The cybersecurity sector should not overlook the untapped pool of potential workers that women represent. Investing in women will go a long way towards overcoming the skills shortage, improving workforce diversity and strengthening Australia’s security capability.”
Ms Fleming has long been a champion for women to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
But there is much still to do in this space – five years after graduating, men with a STEM qualification are 1.8 times more likely to be working in a STEM-qualified occupation compared to their female peers. There is also a wide pay gap of $28,994 in 2020 between qualified men and women working in STEM, compared to $25,534 across all industries.
Ms Fleming noted that skilled migration was being scaled up after the recent Jobs and Skills Summit but she stressed that Australia should not overlook the opportunity to re-skill our home-grown workforce.
“It’s not just skilled migration that needs to be advocated but a program of work to get our girls and young women to pursue STEM careers, and cybersecurity in particular,” she said.
“A Grattan Institute study indicates that a 6 per cent increase in female workforce participation would add $25 billion to national GDP and unlock 1 million more full-time workers.
“Directing that female participation into areas such as technology and cybersecurity would make significant inroads into that imbalance.”
Ms Fleming was recently appointed as the new Chief Executive Officer of Sapien Cyber, Australia’s only sovereign operational technology cyber security firm, after acting in the role for several months. She was previously Sapien Cyber’s Chief Operating Officer.
Ms Fleming joined the Perth-based company in 2018 as a Business Strategy and Planning Manager, and was promoted to Chief Operating Officer in April 2020.
She has a deep background in technology and cybersecurity. Prior to joining Sapien Cyber, Ms Fleming spent seven years working at ECUs Security Research Institute and was CoSec for the Australian Cyber Security Research Institute.
Sapien Cyber Chair Stephen Smith said Ms Fleming had been an outstanding performer as COO and had proven herself as acting CEO, which made the decision to make the appointment permanent a simple one.
“Rochelle’s deep experience in cyber security and technology, her in-depth knowledge of the business and her rapport with the Sapien Cyber team means she is well suited to step up as CEO permanently,” he said.
“On behalf of the Board, I congratulate her and look forward to working with her to continue growing Sapien Cyber as a leader in the provision of OT security in Australia and globally.”
Ms Fleming’s appointment and call to arms for women comes at a time where cybersecurity vulnerabilities around critical infrastructure and energy supply have never been more prominent.
She said cyber-attacks can be politically or militarily motivated, rather than simply seeking financial gain as has been the case with many ransomware attacks, and these threats do not have to be directed at an organisation to have an impact.
“Just last week, it was revealed that an attack on the Government of Albania destroyed data and disrupted essential government services, an attack linked to state-linked cyber actors, and there are new critical infrastructure attacks emerging every month,” Ms Fleming said.
“These attacks are not motivated by financial gain, they are designed to disrupt essential services and service supply, and Australia is not immune to such attacks. We must do more to protect our vital supply networks, such as energy infrastructure.
“The catastrophe of a cyberattack on the operational technology systems that control the flow of electricity, water and natural gas that power our homes, offices and hospitals is unimaginable but cyber terrorists have that capability, and we must act to protect them.”