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July 11, 2024

Young women could be the future of the cybersecurity workforce

A scholarship program is encouraging women’s participation in cybersecurity. CityMag chatted with this year’s winner about getting over male coding stereotypes and visiting Canberra.

  • Words: Helen Karakulak
  • Graphic: Jayde Vandborg
  • Pictures and video: Clare O’Neil’s office

University of Adelaide advanced computer science student Lucy Fidock was drawn to cybersecurity as a career option because she is a problem solver.

“Cybersecurity is always constantly evolving,” she says.

“Once you come up with solutions, it’s like ‘okay, we’ve got this’, we can detect it, so we install it, then there’s the new threat which emerges.


Want to know more about breaking into male-dominated industries?
Read what CityMag heard from the experts.

“As soon as we solve one challenge there’s a new one. Obviously it’s not good that there’s new threats all the time, but it’s good that there are problems to solve, and I really enjoy that aspect.”

Lucy won the 2024 ESET Women in Cybersecurity Scholarship, an initiative launched overseas in 2016 for women majoring in STEM fields. This is the third year the scholarship has been offered in Australia.

The scholarship program was designed to address the challenge of engaging women in the cybersecurity workforce.

According to data from ISC2, a non-profit organisation that specialises in training and certifications for cybersecurity professionals, women make up about 25 per cent of the cybersecurity workforce globally, with participation improving among younger cohorts.

Women’s participation in the cyber security workforce globally is the lowest among those over 65. Source: ISC2

Women’s participation in the cyber security workforce is improving among younger workers. Source: ISC2

Per Capita research found Australian women represent 21 per cent of professionals in the field, and flagged that Australia was likely to suffer a skills shortage of up to 30,000 cybersecurity workers by 2026.

Lucy says while her computer science club has a pretty even gender split, there have been a few of her university classes where it’s “pretty much all guys except for me and one other girl”.

“Obviously, it’s not like something that’s unexpected, because you kind of know going into a STEM field, you expect to come across that. It’s not necessarily like a bad experience or anything, but it does feel a little odd to not see as many women around you,” she says.

Lucy says she believes the opportunities to work in cybersecurity are out there, but she understands why women wouldn’t consider it.

“Especially with cybersecurity and data science, if you think about the way that people generally frame those degrees, it’s usually like some guy at a computer in a hoodie and he’s doing all this like technical stuff and obviously, I don’t think that image is going to be appealing to a lot of women,” she says.

It’s giving computer genius Wade from Kim Possible.

Lucy says young women should know cybersecurity is not all that technical, and there’s more to it than coding.

“Try not to be intimidated, like something might seem really difficult but through study you’ll gradually be brought up to that level to the point where it’s not difficult anymore and you’ll understand,” she says.

It’s predicted 5000 more cybersecurity workers will be needed annually to meet the federal government’s target of being the most secure country in the world by 2030.

To achieve this, the federal government has invested $8.6 million into accelerating the industry, and Home Affairs and Cyber Security Minister Clare O’Neil says women’s participation is a big part of that.

“The percentage of women in cybersecurity is growing, and initiatives such as ESET’s scholarships complement the work the government is doing to support that influx of women,” O’Neil says.

Lucy with Minister O’Neil.

Lucy says the rhetoric that women just don’t want to work in STEM has to change, and that women should know they have the opportunity.

“I think it’s very important to still have these opportunities available and continue to keep encouraging people to go into fields where there’s less women,” she says.

As part of her scholarship prize, Lucy met the minister in Canberra last week and got to meet her team to learn about their roles and discuss the future of the industry, as well as watch her first-ever Question Time.

“I think that aspect of the scholarship, the fact that it’s not just monetary also helping provide me with like connections and getting like really useful insights, I think that was really amazing,” Lucy says.

“It was quite hectic because it’s a sitting week. It was a really great day getting to see how busy it was in there, and like clocks are ringing and turning like green or red and then you have to stand to the side while all the ministers are running past.”

Lucy says she plans on putting the $5000 scholarship towards her uni fees and maybe a desktop computer to do more coding.

Get to know Lucy:

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