Returner Programmes to Bring Women Back to the Cyber Industry

Women Returning to the Cyber Workforce

It’s no secret that the cyber security industry is suffering from a shortage of skilled professionals. The Cyber Ireland Cyber Security Skills Report 2021 found that ‘41% of companies’ security teams are understaffed‘. To add to this, there is a chronic lack of diversity in the industry, as identified by Cyber Women Ireland’s Diversecurity Report, particularly in senior roles. How do we address these issues? 

The theme of International Women’s Day this year is ‘Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow’. For the cyber security industry to succeed we need to bring skilled female professionals back to the workforce and this blog will focus on Returner Programmes which have been successful in targeting women and supporting them in getting back to work. What is a returner programme, how are they accessed and what are the benefits to participants and organisations?  

Programmes to attract young girls and women into STEM are popular. The support and exposure start in school and does impact the number of women entering tech roles. However, the next challenge is retaining them, this is where we are failing.

Women often undertake the bulk of caring responsibilities in the home, choosing to reduce their working hours or taking a career break after having children. The cost of paid childcare and work/life balance are the reasons most cited.

It is everyone’s problem, not just a woman’s problem when skilled, experienced professionals have to leave the workforce due to personal obligations. Without a doubt, for most families, it is the mother’s career that is affected.

Returner Programmes/Returnships

Returner Programmes or Returnships are professional initiatives that provide a supported, phased, paid scheme to individuals helping them to re-enter the workforce.

Image courtesy of Nick Fewings

Candidates are often skilled professionals who have taken a break of at least two years. Returner programmes target those with an employment gap due to sabbatical, illness, caring for others or parental responsibilities.

Thankfully, many organisations are seeing the benefits of running returner programmes. Tech companies Meta, Amazon, VMWare, HPE, Dell Technologies are just some that participate and all are successful in their aim. 

Cybersecurity provider Smarttech247 ran an initiative called ‘Women in Cybersecurity Academy’. They had 45 participants, all of who are now employed in the industry. Smarttech247 are determined to improve female employment within the organisation which currently stands at 35% and they will keep improving it until it’s equal. 

Industry participation for women stands at 20%, so what Smarttech247 is doing is working. When it comes to cyber security, a more diverse security team is a more secure team, with more skills, knowledge and experience to draw from.

Available Supports

If you want to return to work, firstly, contact your previous employer. They may have a returner scheme in place or they might work with you on a phased, supported return. Organisations like Work Equal offer ‘a tailored experience to build your confidence and skills to help you succeed in your job search‘. Back To Work Connect matches ‘mid-life’ returners with roles and also provide support and services for your ‘back-to-work’ journey.

Women Returners organisation listing global returner programmes
Work Equal Support for women entering or re-entering the workforce. Focuses on confidence-building and soft skills. 
Back To Work Connect Services and job listings for ‘mid-life’ returners. 
Digital Skillnet Programme for women partnered with Dell Technologies
Cyber Women Ireland all women in Cyber Security at all stages of their careers

Cyber Training

If you are considering reskilling to move into cybersecurity or information security, check out the training opportunities offered by Springboard Courses, eCollege, Digital Skillsnet, CyberSkills, CyberQuest and other online training providers. 

Most of these courses are free or subsidised and provide the opportunity to reskill or upskill to move into a well-paid, exciting role in an industry crying out for skilled professionals. Details of training opportunities: Cybersecurity Training and Education in Ireland – Where do I start? 

Employers Benefits

Employers, consider implementing a Returner Programme to re-attract skilled professionals. Reach out to employees who have left your company, who may consider returning if such a programme was an option. Both employers and employees will reap the benefits. It also shows your team that taking an extended break is possible and their career won’t suffer as a result.

Flexible Working

The Covid pandemic has brought about rapid technological advancements in the workplace with remote working proving possible, where before it wasn’t an opinion.

Roles now offer flexibility which was an issue for parents hoping to return to work. Lack of flexibility is often cited as a barrier to participation for parents. Remote/hybrid, part-time and flexible work practices give more opportunities to working parents and is a boon to employers seeking skilled professionals.

Good News!

It’s good news for both returners and employers. There are supports available to those, often women, who wish to return to their professional life. Employers who run returner programmes acknowledge the challenges faced by those in taking the first steps and work to address them.

If you are engaging in a returnship, especially if it’s in cybersecurity, let me know how you’re getting on. Follow Cyber Women Ireland to connect, receive support and participate in our community and our ever more diverse industry. 

Happy International Women’s Day!

This blog post was contributed by Jan Carroll, Cybersecurity Lecturer at UCD Professional Academy & Founder of Fortify Institute