With work still to be done to boost diversity and inclusion in cyber security, KPMG UK’s Katie Diacon unpacks where some of the challenges exist, and what could make a difference.
Cyber security is one of the most innovative and dynamic sectors to work in, and it is increasingly vital to the operational resilience of organisations. Katie Diacon, Director, TMT Cyber Security, KPMG in the UK, says success in the sector requires “a great combination of teamwork, and trying to stay one step ahead of the attackers”. Her view is that the best results come from bringing people together who have diverse life experiences, leading to richer insights and innovative solutions.
“It is the very best of technology and people, combined with new opportunities and ideas being explored all the time,” she says.
However, KPMG’s new report, ‘Decrypting Diversity, Diversity and Inclusion in Cyber Security, 2021’ found that the sector is not as diverse as it could be – particularly when it comes to gender and ethnic minorities. There is also improvement to be made in inclusivity and preventing discrimination. Diacon says this can be a disadvantage for employees, organisations and the industry – but is something that everyone can help to change.
Diversity needs support
KPMG surveyed over 900 industry participants and found that 36% were female, 25% reported having a disability, 15% were from ethnic minorities, 6% were ethnic minority females, 10% were LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual), and 1% were trans and non-binary. While some of these results align to broader population statistics, Diacon notes that the lower rate of females in the industry is particularly disappointing. She says it can reflect the pressures of the sector and the ongoing challenge of balancing work with family life.
“If you don’t have support at work and at home, it makes it more challenging to feel like you are doing a good job at both,” she says.
To improve women’s participation, Diacon says leaders need to lead by example when it comes to work-life balance.
“This means true flexibility in working hours – so we can pick kids up from school or nursery and attend sports matches,” she says.
Another helpful factor is ensuring the organisation is performance driven, rather than focused on presenteeism. Also, women could benefit from staged returns to work after maternity leave, Diacon suggests.
“The ability to come back part-time would help ease women back into work on their terms,” she says.
A further step towards improving the diversity of gender, ethnicity and other factors is to ensure there is diversity at the top. If employees see people similar to themselves in leadership roles, they may feel more empowered to pursue a career path within the organisation, Diacon explains.
“If we can get the balance of leadership right, and combine it with a great culture, diversity will grow,” she says.
Inclusion and discrimination are still issues
When it comes to inclusion, 70% of survey respondents said they were able to “be themselves” at work. However, this leaves a sizable number feeling less able to do so. Also concerning was that 22% reported that they had experienced discrimination in the last year, up from 16% in 2020. Women, people from ethnic minority backgrounds, and those who are lesbian or gay were more likely to have had this experience.
Diacon says she is “sadly not surprised” by these findings.
“It unfortunately still happens today, with concerns that there won’t be any repercussions if an individual reports a discriminatory incident. Unless they are certain that their case will be dealt with discreetly and swiftly in their organisation, this will still be an issue,” she says.
Mentoring for change
For diversity and inclusion to improve in cyber security, Diacon says mentoring can help.
“I grew up knowing there were ‘glass ceilings’ for women and there was always lots of talk about smashing through them. I don’t want others to feel there are ceilings, but the determination to push through and succeed is definitely something I want to instil in others,” she says.
Diacon points out that encouragement and change can start young.
“Addressing this (diversity and inclusion) in schools will help change the culture for the future which is more balanced and equal,” she says.
For those looking to thrive in the industry, Diacon says working for an organisation with a strong diversity and inclusion culture makes all the difference. This factor drew her into a career in cyber security at KPMG.
“The collaborative culture at KPMG was definitely a pull. A growing cyber team and the opportunity to take on more responsibility and make a mark in this industry was also key,” she says.
If you would like to find out more about careers in cyber security and technology at KPMG UK, please register for our women in technology careers evening on 18th January, 2022 here: https://forms.office.com/r/nkEWupZiVJ