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Why Diversity and Inclusion Should be a Top Priority

Quartz Network - CIO & CISO VISIONS

Quartz Network - CIO & CISO VISIONS

There are certain attributes that build high performance teams, and diversity and inclusion are key factors, but CIOs struggle to build them. Building diverse teams should be a no brainer for organisations due to the direct benefits, such as higher employee engagement and retention of talent, better decision-making, faster and more creative problem solving and greater innovation

According to the Enterprise Strategy Group, problematic shortage of cybersecurity skills has increased each year since 2015. CIISec’s 2021-22 survey of information security professionals showed that 89% of respondents were male and 85% were from a white ethnic background. If the diversity issue isn’t addressed, then not only security, but future development of the cybersecurity industry itself, will suffer.

Instead of IT leaders waiting for their business to make changes, they need to take charge and inspire change themselves.

So, what do we mean by diversity, inclusion and equity?

Diversity is about who we are, every individual has different characteristics that make us unique. These can be physical such as gender, age, ethnicity or physical disabilities or non-visible differences such as socioeconomic background and education.

Equity seeks to ensure an equal outcome for each person despite different circumstances by allocating resources and opportunities tailored to their specific needs.

Inclusion is about level of participation and creating an environment where diversity is accepted and celebrated and al people are likely to participate.

Why should IT and cyber security leaders care about diversity?

If everyone on a team thinks in the same way, then performance will be hindered. To build and sustain increasingly diverse teams, organisations should adopt more inclusive behaviours. “Diversity is the first and easier step, but inclusions is the key to leveraging diversity” Daniel Sanchez Reina, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner.

Having a wide bank of perspectives and expertise is invaluable. It is also attractive to new talent.

One of the biggest challenges at the moment for the IT and cybersecurity industry is the skills gap. This shortage has a knock-on effect on other challenges such as burnout as there simply are not enough cybersecurity professionals. This also creates an opportunity, the need for talent is so prevalent and thus drives the need to diversify the industry.

By making diversity a top priority it can help solve the skills gap problem in a multitude of ways:

  1. Opening roles to those without a technical background. Many individuals will have already developed the skills needed in security in other careers, from attention to detail and identifying unusual patterns of behaviour, to the communication skills needed to drive security awareness and behavioural change in others. Look for skills and attributes rather than educational background.
  2. Attraction- people care about the type of organisation they work for and their core values. They care about the adaptions made for those with disabilities and that there are actions to drive the industry from the white middle class stereotype. It matters for people to see others who are like them be role models and look up to in their career. Ensuring diverse professionals are represented throughout all levels are key for individuals being attracted to the profession.
  3. Retention – Many diverse individuals also leave within five years due to various challenges (ISC Strategic Plan 2021-2030). By overcoming biases, finding a sense of belonging in like-minded networks and growth opportunities are all ways to help create a safe environment where employees will be happy. A culture has a big impact on employees’ day to day experience of work.

So, what can CIOs and CISOs do?

You can partner with diversity, equity, and inclusion professionals to assess where your organisation is on the inclusion journey and get a picture of the diversity in all offices.

This can provide a comprehensive review of:

  • Equitable representation across the workforce
  • Inclusive training and practices in the workplace
  • Internal communication and awareness around diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Organisational culture
  • Diverse and inclusive practices within external communities

They can then use the results combined with their experiences to develop an internal strategy and action plan to action these priorities.

There are some key principles all leaders should action and champion:

  1. Stand up for fairness- take a stand against discrimination and unfairness
  2. Acknowledge the problem- don’t dispute the impact of prejudice and inequality on peoples lives
  3. Listen and learn- take time to learn about the different experiences and cultures of different groups within your organisation.
  4. Celebrate inclusive behaviours
  5. Adapt training programmes to those who are neurodiverse or have disabilities
  6. Create training programmes on diversity and inclusion, let everyone have their say to speak in a non judgemental environment.
  7. Develop their trust through vulnerability. Leaders can seem unapproachable to employees, show that you have weaknesses, encourage teams to share their opinions and then work together to debunk stereotypes.

As a leader you have a responsibility to regularly ask yourself what you can do. It is easy to nod affirmation and say inspirational things in public but that rarely leads to meaningful change. Instead facilitate conversations, allow yourself to be publicly vulnerable.

Some technology companies have made these promises to improve and uphold these principles. While these efforts are important steps, there is still so much work to be done.

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