Don’t be swayed by stereotypes or feeling like you don’t belong. If you feel uncomfortable or scared, it’s a great sign you are stepping out of your comfort zone, which means that you are growing

If we’re going to achieve gender balance in the cyber security industry, it’s not enough to hear from those already working in the sector; we also need to speak to young people considering a career in cyber. By discussing the stereotypes and prejudices that surround the tech sector, we have an opportunity to change them – and to increase the number of young women working in cyber from 20% to 50%.

Young women like Nitya Sri Adapala are proof you don’t need to be working in the industry to be an inspirational role model for others. They’re also proof that success comes from hard work, motivation and passion – not gender.

Read our interview with Nitya below.

What was your first experience of cybersecurity?

Around three years ago, I participated in Cyber Discovery, which consists of various CTF (Capture the Flag) challenges, based on a wide range of skills. Since then, I have also been chosen to attend CyberFirst Futures, a week-long residential where we had the chance to learn about a certain topic in more depth.

After that, I found out about the CyberCenturion competition. We had the incredible experience of being named Best All Girls Team two years in a row! I really enjoyed working closely with the team, as well as constantly learning new methods to resolve security issues. As part of CyberCenturion, we were taken to America, where we visited various facilities, such as the AFA, NIST, the International Spy Museum, and Northrop Grumman’s Satellite Centre. The trip further fuelled my passion for technology and greatly encouraged me to get more involved in the industry.

How are you involved in cyber security at the moment?

In September 2019, I set up my business, Metis, with a team of 26 passionate young women, as part of the Young Enterprise Company Programme. We have designed and created Cyber Crisis, a board game that educates and raises awareness of cyber security in a fun, engaging way. Our unique storyline was crafted to pique the curiosity of the players, as they are recruited as Cyber Agents who have to defend themselves against the notorious Black Hats organisation. The board game is highly interactive as it is supported with online games on our website and allows players to improve their cognitive skills and memory formation.

Since I’m currently studying at an all-girls school (Tiffin Girls’ School), we’re very keen to promote diversity and encourage young girls to believe that there is a career path for women in this industry. On our website, we have a Women in Tech section and a weekly blog where we post about cyber security issues, case studies, and official reports to show how important it is for the next generation to learn about cyber security.

Why do you think it’s such an interesting sector?

There are an infinite number of reasons why cyber security is such an interesting sector, but if I were to narrow them down, I think there are three main reasons. Firstly, the problem-solving aspect is what makes me feel most excited about this sector because I enjoy the feeling of being challenged. It motivates me to think in many different ways and after many attempts, when I finally crack the issue, that overwhelming wave of satisfaction is what drives me to take on more challenges.

Secondly, I’m constantly in a cycle of facing new challenges, making mistakes and learning from them. This is because cyber threats are always constantly changing, in both scale and sophistication, as technologies continue to evolve. As a result, I have to learn and improve myself by developing a wider range of skills.

Thirdly, it’s a very rewarding job because cyber security is vital for everyone, from young children to the elderly. Cyber security is more than just an individual problem – it is a worldwide, global issue. By working in this sector, I feel that I can help create a better, safer future.

Women only make up about 20% of the cyber security sector; why do you think this is?

Although there are many other reasons, such as the gender pay gap, I think it is mainly due to unconscious bias and stereotypes that discourage women from going into this field since a young age. Although I’m not a gamer, many of the people I meet at competitions and work experience placements are, and their journey into tech usually starts from gaming, e.g. through Minecraft. Although times are changing, many people still don’t associate girls with games, computers or coding. The stereotypes surrounding this sector discourage many young women, as they feel uncomfortable trying to explore a male-dominated industry. This can make them feel that they don’t belong and they may start to question whether they have the potential to go far in this industry, when they shouldn’t.

Why is it so important to encourage more women to take up careers in cyber security?
It is very important to encourage more women to take up careers in cyber security so that the industry can become more diverse. For companies, it not only helps improve their public image, but a diverse workforce can also encourage innovation, as a wider range of perspectives are taken into account.

The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies, beautifully put this as: “Diversity encourages a culture where divergent opinions can be brought together to develop innovative solutions to solve some of the toughest problems our nation faces today.” If more women take up careers in cybersecurity, other women may start to feel more confident, as they’ll have more role models to look up to.

What can we do to encourage more girls to study STEM subjects?

I am a strong believer of visualising before doing. I therefore believe that to encourage more girls to study STEM subjects, we need them to visualise themselves working in STEM-related industries, and show them that they are capable of excelling in STEM subjects.

In order to increase young girls’ confidence and nudge them towards STEM-related opportunities, we could encourage them to participate in competitions and do wider reading – both to develop awareness of these subjects and also awareness of female role models in STEM. The more we talk about women in these roles, the more comfortable young girls will become with associating these jobs with themselves. Eventually, after constantly battling with the stereotypes, both schools and young girls will eliminate the unconscious bias towards associating STEM jobs with men, and more girls will become confident in studying STEM subjects.

What three pieces of advice would you give to someone thinking about studying computer science or other tech subjects at university, or considering going into a sector like cyber?

Firstly, if you are considering going into the tech industry, it is very important to persevere and continually remind yourself of your passion and love for the subject / job. Even when times get hard, stay focussed, maintain that drive and keep yourself motivated to reach your end goals. If you are starting to feel bored, get involved in events and activities to learn about new technologies that you may not have explored before, since they are constantly evolving. Always be sure to network, make and maintain connections; LinkedIn is a great tool for keeping in touch with people for professional reasons. Especially in this industry, you never know when or where an opportunity may come from, so it’s important to keep your doors open to new possibilities.

Secondly, I think it’s just as important to develop soft skills as it is to develop hard skills. By developing a wider range of technical skills, you will have more transferable skills that you could use to explore different areas of the industry. There is so much talent in cyber security, that sometimes it’s the soft skills that sets people apart. Collaboration and cooperation between employees increases efficiency and productivity, which fuels innovation. It is therefore vital to develop soft skills, such as teamwork, communication and leadership.

Thirdly, if you are a girl thinking about entering the tech industry, go for it! If you truly have a passion for the subject, you will definitely reach great heights, because if you love the subject, you are only going to perform more efficiently and productively. Don’t be swayed by stereotypes or feeling like you don’t belong. If you feel uncomfortable or scared, it’s a great sign that you are stepping out of your comfort zone, which means that you, as an individual, are growing.

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