Companies that employ a diverse workforce, with people of different ages, sexes and races, from a variety of educational and career backgrounds, achieve 19% more innovation revenues, according to research from the Harvard Business Review. Of all factors, gender diversity also has the greatest influence on how effective teams are. This means that, by addressing gender inequality, companies are not only fighting to overcome an ethical concern, they are also increasing their efficiency.
In 2018, Kaspersky carried out its own investigation into this issue: Women in Cybersecurity. We discovered that the field of cybersecurity needs more than three million more professionals, and that currently only around 15% of employees in the IT sector are women. There is a healthy demand for personnel in this field which could be met with the help of women. By taking the correct approach to the skills gap and examining it from all sides – starting with the gender myths that society imposes upon us and ending with programs to support female startups and career growth in the cybersecurity industry – we can not only fill these roles but successfully overcome the gender gap.
Let’s take a look at the obstacles that currently prevent girls and women from moving into IT and what action Kaspersky is taking to increase their numbers in the technology sphere worldwide.
At school, girls don’t consider work in IT when choosing a profession
It all begins in early childhood. At the age of five, girls display the same sense of self-worth as boys. But by the age of seven, girls in many countries are steered towards gender-specific roles that have long been nothing more than stereotypes.
In her book The Gendered Brain, neurobiology professor Gina Rippon writes that girls’ and boys’ brains are similar and that boys have no inherent advantages. Children of both sexes have the same interest in the way the world around them works and assess their capabilities in roughly the same way. But as soon as assumptions around gender, such as “girls are usually worse at mathematics than boys”, start to be made, this begins to have a serious influence on their self-esteem, and as a result academic performance declines.
Experts from Spain, the United States, and the UK have established that, in countries where women have more opportunities and rights, girls tend to achieve higher marks in mathematics than boys. On the contrary, in countries where inequality and stereotypes are more pronounced, girls lag behind in technical disciplines. “Our data showed that if Turkey had higher gender equality indicators, the gap in performance in mathematics between boys and girls of Turkish origin would vanish,” says Natalia Nollenberger, one of the researchers.
Kaspersky believes that there is a place for everyone in IT regardless of their sex, since the only thing that matters in a future candidate is their individual abilities. It is therefore important to start fighting gender stereotypes even during childhood.
Every year in the German city of Ingolstadt, Kaspersky employees tell schoolchildren about working for IT companies as part of Girls’ Day. For example, in March 2019 our colleagues showed the girls how to take apart a computer. The schoolchildren also found out what ransomware and phishing are, and discovered which methods are best to protect against them.
The girls were also given a demonstration of an ordinary day in the life of a cybersecurity company. Through the use of examples, they learned which tasks can be solved independently and by whom, and which require the help of a team. The organizers say that even a superficial and brief experience of working in IT like this will help girls seriously consider the technology sphere as a future workplace.
Stereotypes are dissuading women from entering IT
As research shows, women make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college. The picture is almost identical in Russia, Europe and the U.S. The reason is once again down to erroneous assumptions about differences in the intellectual capabilities of the sexes.
As part of its CyberStarts campaign, Kaspersky carried out its own study, called “Where are all the women in IT?” Curiously, both men and women who have worked in the IT sector for a considerable amount of time said that they don’t believe that gender matters in this professional sphere: “If you’re good at your job, you’ll make progress.”
In spite of this, the majority of people employed by IT companies are still men. A total of 37% of female employees surveyed agreed that initially they were afraid of starting a career in IT because there are practically no women in the industry, including in senior management positions.
In the survey, women offered a reason why they encounter fewer female tech startups than male ones: in their view, many startups do not receive sufficient investment. According to data from Atomico, 93% of investments go to projects created by men.
Kaspersky has done a lot to help overcome this shortfall. The company sponsored Amplify, an international competition for female startups, which the global non-commercial organization Girls in Tech had been running for seven years. “Strong role models show that any person, regardless of their sex or skin color, can become whoever they want to be,” says Monika Tomekka, winner of the 2019 competition.
Many female startups are focused on solving social problems, like Project Vive, which gives non-speaking people the ability to communicate through speech-generation devices. It won the Amplify people’s choice award in 2018. That year the grand prize went to the OmniVis project — a program that can detect early outbreaks of disease with the help of a smartphone. In 2019 the competition winner was a biorefinery project called uFraction8, Monika Tomekka’s brainchild.
Monika studied biology at the University of Sheffield in the UK. Before she began her project, she worked at the Institute for Molecular and Cellular Biology at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) in Singapore. “I had excellent female colleagues, but all of my bosses were men,” she says. “And I didn’t quit my job, being a woman in STEM. I knew what I wanted and I worked hard to achieve it. I had excellent teachers (first at school, then at university), who, I believe, really helped me to achieve my goals.”
uFraction8 helps companies that grow biological cells for everyday products (yeast, bacteria, microalgae, mammalian cells) and produce biofuels and medicines. At the final stage, complex processes are used to separate the useful material from the general mass. Using uFraction8 allows companies to obtain more biomaterial and save up to 75% on electricity at the same time.
But it’s not only in startups where Kaspersky is supporting women. The company launched CyberStarts, a pan European program, which unites Kaspersky's communication campaigns and education initiatives to promote careers in cybersecurity – including workshops together with Kaspersky Academy that teach girls the basics of cybersecurity, and internships across Europe for youngsters, to help girls and boys get a job in the industry. We also organize meetings where future professionals are told about the advantages of working in IT and ways of getting into our industry.
In 2019 Kaspersky created the Women in Cybersecurity online community, which supports women setting out on their professional path and subsequent career in IT. Today it boasts around 2,000 participants.
In 2019, Kaspersky held seminars for women in Jordan, where guests learned about cybersecurity. They also became familiar with the main types of cybercrime with the help of the KIPS (Kaspersky Interactive Protection Simulation) board game, which simulates a business environment exposed to cyberthreats.
There is a stereotype that women eagerly sacrifice their career for the sake of family
According to a report by the International Labor Organization, which covered 70 countries, the choice of profession among women would be broader and more diverse if family duties were distributed more evenly between men and women. Yet for now women are the ones who are still mainly responsible for raising children. In addition, stereotypical gender roles across society mean that employers are less keen to take on women, and when choosing between candidates of different genders, they are more likely to give preference to a man.
In order to help women find work in IT and move up the career ladder, Kaspersky has signed PwC’s Tech She Can European charter. In this document, more than 90 IT companies announced plans to hire more women in various positions.
Kaspersky offers its employees an extremely broad range of opportunities and directives for self-realization and growth. Many women in our company have worked their way up from an internship to a top position. A good example is Evgeniya Naumova, who, since the beginning of this year, has headed the Global Sales Network, assuming responsibility for the management and development of sales in key segments for the company: from products for domestic users to interaction with large corporate clients. A team of more than 500 employees works under Evgeniya’s experienced supervision.
Evgeniya has been working at Kaspersky for more than 10 years. Prior to her current position, she oversaw the company’s corporate sales in Russia. In this position, she achieved a 20-fold increase in enterprise sales and tripled the company’s enterprise market share. “As an advocate for gender equality in the workplace, this was made even more special for me as my sales team, made up of equal numbers of men and women, accomplished it,” she says.
The recent global pandemic put Kaspersky in a situation where it needed to actively decide how to maintain the company’s position in the market in these challenging times. “As soon as I took up my new position, the world collided with a new unstable reality, dictated by COVID-19,” recalls Evgeniya.
“On the business side, shops were closing, SMBs were struggling and enterprise deals were slipping…. In these circumstances we were simply obligated to mobilize all our efforts and find the best way of digitizing our business, and we did this, replacing physical boxes of products with ESD (electronic subscription distribution) agreements, as well as launching a whole enterprise transformation system: Enterprise Sales Goes Digital. This program features the use of technology, tools, data and new ways for sales managers to communicate in their everyday work to increase effectiveness in a digital environment,” she says.
As a result, Kaspersky has been able to maintain its leading position in target markets, in spite of the pandemic, and Evgeniya’s team is continuing to work with more than 250,000 corporate clients in 200 countries, including dozens of Fortune 500 companies. “Women are essential for the IT industry: we are nurturing, empathetic, and passionate about everything we do – all qualities that are very important for leadership. We are listeners, communicators, attentive to clients’ needs, adaptive and flexible,” she says.
Evgeniya believes that men have their own social experiences and women have theirs. “IT is in need of ideas, which men and women can both bring to the workplace, and this is the key to functioning effectively as a team,” she says. Companies can only benefit from having diversity in their workforces, and digital competencies are helping to close the gender gap between men and women, broadening career prospects. “Our present and future depends on technology, and we all have to play an equal role,” she adds.