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Is cyber a man's world?

Cyber security still has an out-dated image of being a masculine profession. Charlotte Roe, Cyber Security Apprentice at NHS Digital, talks about her job and why women are needed in the world of cyber.

Charlotte Roe

Without cyber security professionals, the planet would be in chaos. Information is power, and criminals know that if they hack into our ICT devices, they can control or disrupt many aspects of our lives. NHS Digital goes to great lengths to protect patients’ data and to keep the systems that frontline staff rely on operating securely

When I started my apprenticeship, cyber security sounded mysterious. I struggled at first to understand it, but soon realised that it was  all about problem-solving and detective work – both things that I love doing.

I’ve had several different job titles during my apprenticeship, including Infrastructure Specialist, Network Engineer, Operational Security Officer and Junior information Analyst. I’ve also had opportunities to work with security consultants and project managers. Moving around NHS Digital has given me the chance to find my feet, learn what I enjoy and understand why cyber security is so vital in healthcare.

I want to encourage other women to join cyber for three reasons:

Cyber security needs diversity

The NHS is proactively seeking more women to take on cyber roles because, as women, our brains work differently to men’s. We process information differently, act differently and view situations differently. That makes us a real asset.

Male brains are linked to more political and competitive way of thinking, whereas women tend to have higher memory and social skills, focusing on building relationships over competition.

Having greater diversity in cyber security teams enables problems to be viewed and tackled from different angles.

However, it’s not just a gender balance that the NHS is keen to strike. I have dyslexia, which is often viewed as a disability. Although reading, writing and speaking can be affected in people with dyslexia, intelligence is not.

Dyslexic brains tend to be more creative and better at visualising and picking up on patterns and trends quicker than non-dyslexic brains. This means that if you’re mechanic, you can better visualise a piece of machinery, or if you are a cyber analyst, you can better pick up on trends and patterns in code.

Being dyslexic isn’t a disability, but a different ability.

Having greater diversity in cyber security teams enables problems to be viewed and tackled from different angles. By having a range of skills in the team, we can better prepare for anything that may come our way.

Cyber saves lives

Cyber roles equip the NHS with the resources needed to provide the most effective and safest patient care possible. We are the backbone that supports frontline staff. We keep their systems running whilst they keep our patients safe.

For example, if a cyber-attack occurred in a hospital that disrupted its computer systems,  emails would not be delivered, patients’ medical records would not be accessible and staff would not be able to communicate quickly or efficiently. Losing this immediate access to information makes it difficult for clinicians to provide treatments that are safe and appropriate for the patients they are caring for, and could potentially result in fatal consequences.

You don’t have to be a frontline staff member to have a job with real purpose in the NHS. Cyber security saves lives too.

Women are coding pioneers

We might imagine coding to be male-dominated, but it was actually invented by a woman.

A woman wrote one of the first pieces of code for NASA’s Apollo program. In World War II, women had the job of determining an algorithm of the angle soldiers should fire at, and most recently the code written for the first photo ever of a black hole was written by a woman.

In cyber security, women aren’t stepping into a man’s world. It was created by us too.

Read Dan Pearce’s blog on how we’re improving cyber security. We have more blogs to come in Cyber Awareness Month.

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Charlotte Roe

Charlotte is doing her level four apprenticeship in NHS Digital's Data Security Centre.

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Last edited: 12 November 2019 11:20 am