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By 13 September 2023 | Categories: feature articles

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The gender gap in the IT industry has been one of great concern for a number of years. According to Women in Tech ZA, just 23% of ICT roles in South Africa are held by women.

When one considers the highly specialised world of cybersecurity, we can only assume this number is lower. This is, of course, by no ways a new challenge. What is new, however, is the evolution of this industry and how the proactive steps taken by companies are fostering more inclusivity and diversity within their ranks. One such success story is Trend Micro.

Trend Micro is a leading cybersecurity provider and was founded by Eva Chen, Jenny Chang and Steve Chang more than 30 years ago. Chen has been at the helm as CEO since 2004, leading over 7,000 employees across 65 countries. So while cybersecurity might appear to be a male dominated industry, Trend Micro does not subscribe to these norms and is working hard to build a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

For Chantel Hamman, Channel Account Manager at Trend Micro, starting out in the IT industry almost 20 years ago there was a definite feeling of how the industry was male dominated with very few women in technical or executive roles.

“I started out as an internal sales administrator at a local well-known reseller after a female friend of mine recommended me,” says Hamman. “At the time, there were very little women in the IT space – they were often in admin and support roles. Things have changed a lot since then and I’m seeing more women in the industry that are doing more than just admin and support.”

Hamman herself has spent her entire career in IT and recently started at Trend Micro a few months ago. While still in her first year with the Trend Micro team, Hamman has found that having a female CEO doesn’t pay lip-service to the gender gap, but rather sets the tone for greater equality and diversity across the company.

“It’s the first time I’m working at a company with a female CEO,” says Hamman. “In fact, when I look back on my time so far at Trend Micro, I realise that I’m constantly engaging with so many women in senior management on a regular basis.”

It’s the likes of Eva Chen and other women in leadership roles at Trend Micro that supports the value that women bring to the company and the larger industry as a whole. This drive for visible female leadership has helped to set an example and encourage others to follow in their footsteps. This is especially important for Celiwe Jakpa, Senior HR Business Partner – Africa at Trend Micro.

“We need more women in executive roles and to be given a seat at the boardroom table,” says Jakpa. “To challenge the status quo, companies need to give women more opportunities to step into leadership roles. It’s only through showing us trust in our capabilities as leaders that we can create meaningful change.”

While more diversity in executive roles in the IT and cybersecurity industry are important, there is a need for women to take on technical roles as well. A more diverse workforce can lead to a depth of different ideas, opinions and innovations. This has become increasingly important in tech where biases are ever-present in technology such as artificial intelligence and facial recognition software. When it comes to cybersecurity the need for more female defenders is growing as Trend Micro’s own research has found that 30% of cybercriminal forum participants are female.

“Trend Micro proactively takes steps to bring more women into the fold and mentor them along their career paths,” says Karina Brijlal, Head of Marketing at Trend Micro.

The cybersecurity company’s Certification Program for IT Security is an example of the kinds of initiatives that exist to move more women into roles within the company that are technical says Brijlal. While the programme is open to both men and women, there is a big push from Trend Micro to encourage women to seek out more opportunities in the cybersecurity space by signing up.

“In recent years we’ve had a number of women join our ranks through the Certification Program for IT Security,” says Brijlal. “So while we can’t say the skills gap between men and women in cybersecurity has closed, I certainly feel it’s getting smaller.”

However, creating diversity within the IT and cybersecurity industry is only one part of the challenge of addressing this gap. The other issue is about creating an inclusive environment that is welcoming to everyone. For those who are entering this space, there is a need to ensure that they feel seen, heard and valued by their team.

“I know that if I approached any of our senior leadership team – male or female – for guidance or mentoring, they would be more than happy to take on that role,” says Brijlal. “There is no doubt that myself, Chantel, Celiwe or any other women would be free to speak her mind and to never shy away from sharing our views.”

“What has really helped me in my career is that my feeling of empowerment came from those who allowed me to make mistakes,” says Hamman. “It’s knowing that no matter what happens, they always have my back.”

“There is a supportive culture across Trend Micro’s business and markets, and this is something that is reinforced and practiced from the top down,” says Celiwe. “Our CEO Eva has an open-door policy and I know she’s not just saying that, but actually practicing it. If I need to turn to her or my manager for help or their council, I can do it.”

It’s this sense of belonging and freedom to be your best self that will drive a more equal, inclusive and diverse industry for all. While the gender gap is unlikely to disappear overnight, a culture of support that is adopted at all levels of an organisation’s leadership will help to change the face of the cybersecurity and IT industry as a whole.

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