Women can play a vital role in shaping cyber policy


By Wendy Komadina*
Monday, 17 June, 2024

Women can play a vital role in shaping cyber policy

Women can play a vital role in providing diverse perspectives, and influence cybersecurity and data protection policy.

The shimmer and sparkle of International Women’s Day has come and gone, but its message is one we should be working towards all year round. The theme this year focused on ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress’,1 bringing to the forefront the importance of educating the public and amplifying the positive impact that investing in women can have on business. This is especially important in the government IT sector, where women can play a vital role in providing diverse perspectives and influence cybersecurity regulatory compliance and data protection policy standards across several industries, particularly where women have high representation, such as health care and education.

What influence can women have on regulatory policy?

Let’s face it, despite decades of working to increase representation, women still only represent approximately 25% of the technology sector in Australia, even less among executive levels. So realistically, we need two strategies working in parallel: one focused on continuing to invest in attracting women into STEM programs to build a pipeline for the future and one focused on looking beyond technical skills, where gender-diverse perspectives and insights can be garnered to influence and shape regulatory policy, particularly in sectors where women dominate in numbers2, including the healthcare and education sectors.

In Deloitte’s recent ‘2024 Global Healthcare Sector Outlook’ report3, trends transforming the healthcare sector include the role and impact of artificial intelligence (AI), where investments in AI will accelerate the reduction of manual administration work and increase the availability of AI-led telehealth consultations, streamlining diagnosis, analysis and patient record keeping. The cost of transformative progress is the increased risk of cyber attacks that could threaten patient confidentiality, data integrity and patient safety through interrupted availability of health records. Women can contribute by being given a voice to input into regulatory policies and compliance recommendations that guide public government funded healthcare providers. Their diverse perspectives in understanding how risk is managed; how patient data privacy is guarded, particularly in regard to children and the elderly; and their views on the ethical disclosure of patient information would provide a different vantage point for creating policies that mitigate risk.

In the education arena, parents were given a front row seat, during the COVID era, in educating their children through online platforms. Students were given access to learning resources through user IDs to complete work. Fast forward to the present, and the impact on how we learn has been transformed including the acceleration of cyber threats, where access to student data has increased the threat to child safety and vulnerability. As with the healthcare sector, women can play a vital role by being given a voice in outlining the risks and in policy recommendations.

To summarise, women can most definitely make significant contributions with no coding or developer skills: what is vital is foundational cyber knowledge, and that requires educational investment.

Invest in education to accelerate faster

The Hon Clare O’Neil MP states in the ‘2023–2030 Australian Cyber Security Strategy’ report: “Cyber security requires government and big business to lead. From today, we are shifting more of the cyber risk to those who are most capable. We are holding industry to higher standards to protect our devices, our data, and our critical infrastructure. For the first time, the Government will hold itself to the same standard it expects of industry.”

We are blessed to live in a country with boundless opportunity and access to education. However, the report indicates that big businesses are asked to lead the implementation of Australia’s Cyber Security Strategy. The challenge is that globally, there is a cyber skills shortage, both within public and private sectors, and access to education is disproportionately out of reach for women due to the cost of education and family commitments.

So what can be done differently?

The good news is that the government has taken a small step forward to support building the skills of the future, by launching a fee-free initiative available at TAFE NSW on selected cybersecurity and technology courses (subject to change). I will confess that I personally took advantage of a fee-free course in 2023 and found myself amongst a class of males with few female students — which was intimidating — but more importantly, the course ran twice weekly from 6 pm to 9 pm, which was prohibitive due to family commitments, leading me to abandon the course after two terms.

To attract women, we need to rethink how we offer up education. A step further to attract and retain a more gender-diverse cohort of students could be to offer female-only classes, or offer education as an incorporated part of an employee development plan — where an arrangement is made to allow an employee time to study during work hours, to advance their education and pair that with enhanced continuous on-the-job training.

Get proactive

We can all play a role in presenting opportunities to diverse groups to attract the skills we need for the future and to capture the broad spectrum of perspectives needed to build robust cybersecurity compliance and policies. We can all hold ourselves accountable to invest in women, to accelerate progress. My personal tip: despite best efforts from government and communities, ultimately each one of us owns our path and the key is to get proactive. Make yourself visible by sharing with your peer groups, stakeholders, managers and business community your commitment and curiosity to learning. Owning our journey is the best contribution we can make to influencing and shaping the future.

1. United Nations 2014, Invest in women: Accelerate progress, International Women’s Day, <<https://www.un.org/en/observances/womens-day>>
2. Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2019, Gender Segregation in Australia’s Workforce, Australian Government, <<https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/18_04_Industrial_segregation.pdf>>
3. Deloitte 2024, 2024 Global Healthcare Sector Outlook, <<https://www.deloitte.com/au/en/Industries/life-sciences-health-care/analysis/global-health-care-outlook.html>>

*Wendy Komadina is the Head of Channels Partnerships for Asia Pacific, Japan and China at Cloudflare. She is responsible for defining the vision, creating the strategy and leading the channel sales organisation to build and support partnership growth and customer adoption across all product and market segments in the region.

Top image credit: iStock.com/metamorworks

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