Addressing Diversity at a Grassroots Level

This post was written by: Daisy Steel

Diversity and inclusion have been prevalent topics across the Cyber Security industry for a number of years. On Episode 28 of The Cyber Security Matters Podcast we spoke to Aarti Gadhia, the Principal Security Specialist at Microsoft and the Founder & CEO of Standout To Lead, about her perspectives of diversity in the industry. With over 15 years of experience in the Cyber Security space, as well as being named as one of the Top 20 Women in Cyber Security Canada, Aarti has some incredible insights on the topic. She also shared her advice for companies who are looking to address diversity at a grassroots level, which you can read below. 

“Change is taking place – which is good – but we need to accelerate that change. There are so many statistics that show how far we still have to come. ERG’s have been formed to influence changes at an organisational level, but everyone has to solve this problem. We shouldn’t just leave it to the affected groups to solve it. The first thing we could do better for diversity is acknowledge that everyone has a bias, including me, and we need to challenge it. Hiring managers need to find ways to challenge their own biases, which means starting by looking at your existing process and seeing where you could improve it. Each hiring manager needs to challenge their own process and look beyond just having 50% of resumes that are from diverse candidates. That process needs to be changing. 

The industry as a whole has been talking about changing the requirements. Instead of putting the emphasis on the number of years’ experience that you need to have in order to get a management position, the emphasis should be on demonstrating strong leadership qualities, right? Just changing that will give people an opportunity. There’s a great one that I saw on LinkedIn, where men get hired on what they’ll bring to the company or role, versus women, who are hired based on what they have to prove. Give everyone an opportunity! Instead of pursuing the standard or traditional qualification you’ve always hoped for, change your requirements to give other people a chance. 

After that you need to look at retention. The industry is doing a good job in bringing more women, but that’s not what it’s about, because at the same time women are leaving the industry. There are two reasons for this: the first is a barrier for growth opportunities, and the second is a lack of inclusion or belonging. We’ve heard in one of your other podcasts someone who shared that she was told she was emotional at work. The issue is that feeling of being labelled. We don’t feel welcomed when we can’t bring our true authentic selves to work, and that’s why we leave. 

I’ve seen many organisations try to solve this problem by sending us all on leadership courses, but it’s not about a lack of leadership skills. It’s about opening the doors and fixing that broken rung on the ladder. You’ve got women in your company, but what are you going to do to retain us? Are you going to give us the opportunity to develop? That’s another thing that the industry needs to really think about; how do we grow diverse talent and retain them? How do we make sure that they can continue to be their authentic selves? 

Finally, we need allies. We’re seeing allies in the industry who are supporting us, but we need more to take action. I get so many allies that come to me saying, ‘this is important because I’ve got daughters’. My next question to them is, ‘if you didn’t have daughters, would this still be important to you?’ It shouldn’t be a checkmark exercise for individuals. Everyone needs to solve this problem. It shouldn’t be hard to solve this problem if everybody’s on board. For allies, think about what you can do. Start thinking about what you can start implementing – don’t wait to be told. Don’t worry about saying the wrong things, because what really matters is that you’re genuine. We just need your voices. We need everyone to be on board, because that’s how change is going to take place. Try different things out – even try reverse mentoring. There’s a lot that you can learn. Try seeing things through our lens to better understand what’s happening. 

There’s a lot I could talk about when it comes to what needs to change. Fundamentally though, it comes back to those three things: bias, retention, and allies.

To hear more from Aarti, tune into Episode 28 of The Cyber Security Matters Podcast here

We sit down regularly with some of the biggest names in our industry, we dedicate our podcast to the stories of leaders in the technologies industries that bring us closer together. Follow the link here to see some of our latest episodes and don’t forget to subscribe.     

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