Half of Ireland’s security teams are under-staffed - we won't bridge this gap until we break down barriers

Cork-based data protection and security consultant PHILIPA JANE FARLEY says STEM stereotyping is a barrier to entry in a very rewarding career
Half of Ireland’s security teams are under-staffed - we won't bridge this gap until we break down barriers

Data related incidents and events are in our news and social feeds every day, several times a day. Picture: Stock

WE all know a stereotypical STEM enthusiast. Slightly scruffy looking and probably wearing a t-shirt under a button-up shirt or obscure slogan shirts that say things like ‘Got Root?”’or 'perd’. They only drink craft beer or gin and cracking the door open on a conversation about their favourite topic will have you stuck for days. Great to have on the pub quiz team, but destroys the group IM chat. They are not like you.

When you hear work in STEM, you imagine a white lab coat, goggles, and a mysterious piece of equipment that likely needs a licence to operate. When I say to you that you could work in STEM, it is more than likely you do not relate to the stereotype.

I am a mother of three children. I fold laundry on my breaks and I have hobbies that include rescuing plants from stores and knitting. I work in STEM. 

I hold a Bachelor of Science degree where I majored in Psychology, Computer Science, and Formal Logic – the Artificial Intelligence Programming stream. I also hold a postgraduate LLB law degree where I specialised in Intellectual Property Law, Technology Law, and Constitutional (fundamental) Rights Litigation.

In my daily work life, I straddle the realms that are often presented as disciplines never crossing over – technology and humanities. I essentially work as a translator between technical teams, compliance teams, and legal teams.

One of my lesser known qualifications is a Postgraduate Certificate in Education. I am a qualified teacher. My teaching experience underpins my ability to explain complex compliance requirements in simple and logical terms and put together effective training programmes.

I tell you this not to pat myself on the back, but to demonstrate how a mix of different qualifications benefits my colleagues and clients. 

I work with people in STEM who have no university qualifications, some who never formally finished school, and who started out in the field with a keen interest, natural curiosity, and a willingness to learn.

Recent unfortunate events, like the HSE ransomware cyberattack, damaged all of us in ways that will not be understood let alone measured for years to come. Data related incidents and events are in our news and social feeds every day, several times a day. These reports tell us that organisations react to incidents and events. Only on rare occasion are we told how an organisation might have proactively prepared for an incident, but it landed up happening anyway. Industry analysis is not great, citing skills and labour shortages. It is likely that half of Ireland’s security teams are understaffed and it can take over six months to fill security-related roles. We need an army but will we ever close the gap?

We will not close this gap, nor will we move into proactive positioning, until we break down barriers to entry which include perpetuating the STEM stereotype. 

I might argue further and state that I do not believe merely inserting an A is the answer, to include Arts into the mix of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Anybody can work in STEM with any background and any qualification.

I consider risk appreciation or risk assessment, which is at the heart of most of the work done in STEM. Without diversity, our risk appreciation and assessment exercises are flawed from the outset. Without diversity, we do not adequately scope the extent of harms nor do we correctly identify who may be subject to harms. Flawed risk assessments are fatal in STEM.

When we discuss lack of diversity in STEM, technology tends to bear the brunt of most discussions. 

In Ireland particularly, we must rethink the composition of the traditional systems and security team and bring some balance and diversity into our operations. Age should not be a barrier, young or older. Gender should not be a barrier. Education should not be a barrier. Race should not be a barrier. Nationality should not be a barrier. Neurodiversity should not be a barrier. But, most of all, the stereotype should not be a barrier.

It is a great shame that we have perpetuated the STEM stereotype which now stands in the way of the field welcoming you as a participant. There are not enough of us to go around. We need you. STEM roles can accommodate flexibility, work-life balance, and afford opportunities to work in pretty much any sector. If you have keen interest, natural curiosity, and a willingness to learn, consider a career in STEM. You can without a doubt make a valuable contribution to STEM.

https://www.isc2.org/Research/Workforce-Studytarget="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> https://cyberireland.ie/cyber-security-skills-report-2021/

UPCOMING EVENT

If you are thinking of a career in data governance and compliance, please join us at 09h30 on the 25th of May, GDPR Day, for a free webinar on compiling and managing Article 30 Records of Processing Activity. See rebeldata.com for more detail.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Philipa Jane Farley is a data protection and security consultant who works primarily in the health and medtech sector.

She has over twenty years of experience working in different sized organisations and sectors on operational, governance, risk management and compliance matters, across continents.

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