What has cybersecurity got to do with this year’s London Marathon on Sunday, April 21 2024?

Very few of the runners will be like Georgia Bell. Bell may not be a London Marathoner—though she has probably logged more training miles than many—but she is a runner with even higher goals: possibly going to the Olympic Games to run the women’s 1500 meters this summer, and at the same time, becoming a front runner and role model for women in cybersecurity.

Talented, then injured

Bell was a talented junior runner, one of the country’s best at 800m. Then she got injured and eventually gave up the sport—until that is, she ran a super-fast parkrun. Now, benefitting from the help of her old coaches, Bell is a contender for a Women’s 1500m Olympic medal this summer at the Paris Games.

What is most impressive about Bell is not just her running. It is that she finds the time to combine training at the highest level twice a day with a full-time job in cybersecurity.

Bell told The Guardian, “We use machine learning and AI to plug into organisations and see how they are getting hacked basically. A lot of times companies come to us after they have a cyberattack, they get funding and need to get something in order to protect themselves.

“We work with companies all over the world. It’s a booming business, so it would be a big deal to walk away from it, but obviously the opportunity is very unique this year with Paris. It’s a big juggling act to make it all happen.”

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There are more women in security, but still too few

Earlier this month, it was International Women’s Day. Bell’s story makes her a role model not only for women runners, but for women in IT, and especially in cybersecurity. Women only make up a quarter of the cyber workforce, and there are constant efforts to increase that percentage. It is growing, but still far too slowly.

According to ISC2, a member association for cybersecurity professionals, to promote a more diverse workforce, organizations are embracing funding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs, incorporating skills-based hiring, and revising job descriptions to emphasize DEI goals.

Such organisations adopting skills-based hiring have seen a positive impact, with an average of 25.5% women in their workforce compared to 22.2% among those who have yet to embrace the initiative. However, there is still much work to be done, with women representing only 26% of cybersecurity professionals under the age of 30.

That said, there is progress. In 2019, the percentage was only 20%. Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that women will represent 30% of the global cybersecurity workforce by 2025, growing to 35 percent by 2031.

2023 was a slightly better year in growing the total cybersecurity workforce, but many more good years are needed. In 2023, the global cybersecurity workforce reached 5.5 million people, an 8.7% increase from 2022, representing 440,000 new jobs.

While this is the highest workforce ISC2 has ever recorded, its Cybersecurity Workforce Study shows that demand is still outpacing supply. The cybersecurity workforce gap has reached a record high, with four million professionals needed to adequately safeguard digital assets.

A role model for women in cybersecurity

At the start of March, Bell took part in the World Indoor Championships in Glasgow, just missing out on a medal and finishing fourth. It augurs well for her to possibly gain an Olympic medal in Paris, which would be a great personal achievement, and in doing so, whether as an Olympic competitor, contender, or hopefully, medal-winner, she could become the most compelling role model for women in cybersecurity.