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‘We need to stamp out privilege in cyber’

The cyber industry needs to lead the way for social mobility, urges Andy Cobbett, CISO and director at the Chartered Institute of Information Security (CIISec)

In a time when cybersecurity is a booming profession, the need for skilled and talented people has never been greater. Attracting a wide and diverse talent pool is a must for any forward-thinking business.

What’s more, breaking down socio-economic barriers also represents smart business.Yet, as we exit the pandemic, barriers to social mobility have grown.

It is sobering to think that one in three children in the UK now live in poverty – that’s around 4.3 million. Across Britain, there are signs that attainment gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged children are getting wider.

Privileged pupils in England are now as much as seven months behind their more advantaged peers at school. Today, you’re 60 percent more likely to be in a professional job if you were from a privileged background rather than working class.

“I was one of the fortunate ones”

My parents were both from working class backgrounds, having left school with few formal qualifications. I went to a non-selective state school and was the first person in my family to sit A-levels and subsequently go to university.

After graduating, I was fortunate to secure my first professional role in an IT consultancy and software house. In their wisdom, they assigned me to their security practice and, like many other cyber colleagues, I found myself in security by accident and have never looked back.

My career has provided fascinating work, taken me across the globe and given me life experiences that my parents could only have dreamed of.

As a young profession, cybersecurity is less likely to be encumbered by issues of cultural bias than perhaps more established professions such as law, medicine or accountancy.

Indeed, analysis by the BCS in 2018 showed that 75% of those in the wider IT profession have experienced upward social mobility, compared with their parent’s social class. We, therefore, have an ideal opportunity to make a difference.

So, how is the Chartered Institute of Information Security (CIISec) helping to foster improved social mobility and ensure others have opportunities, as I did? We are:

Improving early access to cyber as an educational pathway

The CyberEPQ is the UK’s first and only Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) in cybersecurity and is administered by the Institute.

This qualification has been developed by a consortium of partners to help provide a starting point for anyone considering a cybersecurity career. Accredited by City & Guilds, the course is delivered using a distance learning platform and can be studied through a school or independently.

Developing and promoting alternative pathways into the profession
While many enter the profession as graduates, the costs of undertaking a university course can be off-putting for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The Institute has a long history of supporting the formation of cyber apprenticeship schemes for the UK.

Working with employers to foster a culture of social mobility

The Social Mobility Commission consistently finds that those from lower socio-economic backgrounds progress at a slower rate in their careers than their more privileged peers. 

While there are no silver bullets for an employer, there are practical measures that employers can take to make a positive difference, such as:

 recruiting on aptitude and attitude; building a culture of progression
; reducing informal ways to be promoted; having a defined list of skills required for each promotion
; focusing on inclusion; and ensuring there are intermediate stepping stones of progression built into career structures.

Our industry needs diverse candidates to thrive

The pandemic has had a damaging effect on social mobility, which is likely to be further exacerbated by the current economic outlook and cost of living crisis.

With the backdrop of an ever-evolving cyber threat landscape and skills shortage, there has never been a more pressing time for us to effect change and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to thrive irrespective of their background or where they grew up.