Seminar on “Gender Diversity in Cybersecurity: Empowering Women in Ukraine”

On October 31, the USAID Cybersecurity for Critical Infrastructure in Ukraine Activity, in partnership with Aspen Institute Kyiv, held a Seminar on “Gender Diversity in Cybersecurity: Empowering Women in Ukraine”. The Dialogue aimed to foster collaboration among stakeholders to address the gender gap in cybersecurity, promoting gender equity, and facilitating informed, evidence-based policies, practices, and partnerships.

The Dialogue brought together representatives from the cybersecurity market, government institutions, educational establishments, and organizations promoting gender equality.

In her welcoming remarks, Iryna Khomenko, Deputy Chief of Party, USAID Cybersecurity for Critical Infrastructure in Ukraine, emphasized the need for joint efforts by stakeholders to achieve gender equality in the cybersecurity sector. Iryna also highlighted that the Dialogue would contribute to formulating specific steps to overcome barriers to the professional advancement of women in the cybersecurity market.

Nataliya Tkachuk, Head of Cyber and Information Security Directorate, National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, noted the importance of gender equality in the opportunities for professional development for both men and women. She pointed out the necessity of rejecting stereotypes regarding the role of women in cybersecurity that hinder their growth.

Valeriya Ionan, Deputy Minister for Euro-integration at the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, shared initiatives implemented by the Ministry to popularize the field of cybersecurity, including educational series, courses, state programs, and more.

Victor Zhora, Chief Digital Transformation Officer at the State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine, believes that the current situation regarding gender equality in cybersecurity is improving, including within government agencies. He emphasized the need to continue working on increasing opportunities for the professional development of women in the field of cybersecurity.

Denis Poltavets, Director of Program Development at the Aspen Institute Kyiv, expressed gratitude to the USAID Cybersecurity for Critical Infrastructure in Ukraine Activity for the opportunity to implement a program to facilitate cross-sectoral dialogue to support the development of the cybersecurity market. He called for the active exchange of ideas to develop practical steps for more fabulous women’s involvement in cybersecurity.

Foreign Experience in Strengthening Gender Equality in Cybersecurity

During the first session of “Global Perspectives: Supporting Women in Cybersecurity,” Nina Olesen, Chief Operating Officer of Women4Cyber Foundation, shared about societal stereotypes and biases that may hinder women from pursuing careers in cybersecurity. For example, the persistent belief that there are more opportunities for men in cybersecurity does not align with reality.

Nina Olesen believes that it is necessary not only to promote the field of cybersecurity but also to communicate the professional opportunities within it to encourage equal access for both men and women. Additionally, Nina emphasized the importance of programs to promote women in cybersecurity at the state level and the establishment of specific Key Result Areas (KRIs) within companies for the business environment.

Nina highlighted the importance of educational work, explicitly stating that cybersecurity encompasses a much broader range of professional competencies than purely technical ones. In this context, the speaker emphasized the significance of mentorship for women.

Obstacles to Achieving Gender Equality in Cybersecurity

During the session “Driving Gender Diversity: Collaboration for Equity in Cybersecurity,” participants discussed essential stereotypes, challenges, and obstacles faced by women working in cybersecurity in Ukraine. These included equality in career opportunities, financial motivation, and decision-making participation between men and women. Exploring international experiences, participants identified primary challenges in the job search for women in the cybersecurity field in Ukraine, including:

  • Stereotypes and biases regarding women’s professional competencies in cybersecurity.
  • Gender pay gap.
  • Low awareness of the diversity within the cybersecurity field, including communication, legal, diplomatic, and other directions.
  • Lack of motivation to work in cybersecurity due to the low attractiveness of the industry and understanding of its development prospects.
  • Limited development of networks and professional communities for cybersecurity professionals.
  • Different expectations regarding professional skills for men and women.
  • Lack of or low development of programs for career switchers in the cybersecurity field.
  • Women’s uncertainty in their professional competencies, including self-undermining in the job market.

Practical Steps to Strengthen Gender Equality in Cybersecurity

During the session “From Dialogue to Action: Fostering for Equal Opportunities in Cybersecurity,” participants shared corporate and nationwide programs to support and ensure gender equality.

Participants proposed various steps to enhance gender equality across different communities.

In the academic community:

  • Soft skills development.
  • Integration of gender equality issues into cybersecurity school programs.
  • Cybersecurity promotion by female experts in the public field.
  • Broadening understanding of the diversity within the cybersecurity field.
  • Conducting internships and practices for students to showcase various opportunities and development directions.
  • Mentorship for the students considering gender balance among mentors.
  • Special programs (financed by donors) for young female experts with high competition levels.

In Business:

  • Gender policies and corporate codes of ethics considering gender balance implementation.
  • Cybersecurity communication in the public field considering gender balance.
  • Public research to investigate the problems with gender balance in enterprise and public institutions.
  • Special narratives enforcement in public relations and communication to shift public opinion within academy and business.
  • Female cybersecurity experts self-brand development.

In the Public Sector:

  • Top government officials’ involvement in promoting gender balance in the industry.
  • Gender balance promotion in the public field.
  • Regulations regarding the protection of gender equality at the state level.
  • General advancement of the domain (resulting in increased interest among male and female experts).

Nadiia Omelchenko, vice-president of IT Integrator, and Oleksandr Smychnikov, Business Consulting Director, 10Guards LLC, moderated the Dialogue.

During 2022–2024, 10 stakeholders dialogues and 5 seminars will be held to discuss and find better solutions in the Сybersecurity field to build and improve Ukraine’s cyber resilience. 

The Cybersecurity Dialogue Program was made possible through support provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development under a grant provided by the USAID Cybersecurity for Critical Infrastructure in Ukraine Activity.