How To Get More Female Veterans Into Cyber Security

September 14, 2021
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From our recent signing of the Armed Forces Covenant to the presence of ex-military personnel on our team and board, CAPSLOCK is a company that understands the importance of supporting our veterans. We are particularly keen to encourage service leavers to identify cyber security as a viable option when they are looking for a new career pathway.

We had a number of veteran learners enrol onto our inaugural cyber re-skilling bootcamps in 2021. They all saw how their military experience had equipped them with some highly sought-after transferable skills such as problem solving, protecting vulnerable assets and working under pressure, making them ideal future cyber security professionals.

They all had one other thing in common: they were all men.

Despite CAPSLOCK’s use of inclusive language and imagery in all our social media output and advertising campaigns, including those focused at veterans, we haven’t had any ex-service women enrol on any of our first four bootcamps.

According to a recent report from the Ministry of Defence, in 2016 there were approximately 250,000 female veterans living in the UK. As we’ve previously discussed, service leavers undergoing resettlement are extremely well-suited to cyber security careers. Is there a way to encourage more female veterans to re-skill in this dynamic industry?

Anna Castle is one of the tutors at CAPSLOCK and is also a veteran. She spent 23 years in the British Army, so is an obvious person to speak to about the experiences of women in the military, and how we might present a career in cyber security to them as a viable resettlement path.

Hi Anna, can you tell us about your military background?

I joined the British Army at the age of 19 as it was something that I’d always wanted to do. Having lived in France for the latter part of my childhood, I actually moved back to the UK to gain the required qualifications to join. I was very committed! I served my career in the Army Intelligence Corps and I trained in physical security.

I also learned lots of other skills like languages, how to conduct analysis and how to teach and manage people. I always enjoyed the roles where I was employed as a security advisor, and I learned early in my career how to understand and recognise various threats to security.  I’ve conducted security audits and inspections and delivered security and resilience advice to senior civilian and military leaders. Ultimately I spent 23 years working in the military.

Female Veterans in Cyber Security
Anna Castle spent 23 years in the military before transitioning to a cyber security career.

How did you end up transitioning into cyber security?

It was a natural progression from what I did in the army. Whilst physical security and cyber security are very different in terms of the mitigation measures you put in place, the theory side of things is exactly the same. You have a threat actor putting an asset at risk and you implement measures to protect your asset.

Those measures in the physical world take the form of locks and alarms, education and training of staff. In cyber it’s the same apart from instead of locks and alarms you have things like firewalls and virus detection.  All the procedure and policy side of things is based on risk exactly as it is in the physical world.

What has surprised you the most about cyber security?

That it’s so similar to what military forces do. In the military, we try to understand the enemy and what their intentions are towards us.  If we can understand what the enemy is capable of doing, we’re better able to protect our forces. Cyber works in a very similar fashion. We try to understand the threat actors and their intentions in order to apply relevant protection measures to our systems.

What makes the skills and experience of a female veteran unique?

I think women in the army definitely have to try harder to earn respect than men because there is always a presumption that, as a woman, you’re not going to be as strong or robust as your male colleagues. I often felt I had to prove that I wasn’t “too girly”, that I wasn’t going to slow the guys down, that I could hold my own amongst the men and be “one of the lads” in order to be accepted. Looking back now it makes me really sad that I didn’t feel I could embrace my femininity.  It took me most of my career to understand that being a team player isn’t just about emulating male behaviour and that, as a woman, you can bring unique skills to the table.

In my experience, I’ve found that female soldiers are extremely considered in their approach to problem solving.  We tend to anticipate and understand the future outcomes of our actions rather than just diving in. I’ve seen this a lot in my career. We’re good at taking stock of the situation before acting and sometimes that can be the difference between success and failure.

I think that lived experience sets female veterans apart.  The military is a very male-dominated environment, with women making up only 11% of military personnel. You have to develop a fair amount of tenacity and resilience. Of course, so do your male colleagues, but the women have this additional obstacle. I subconsciously felt that being female automatically put me at a disadvantage in lots of situations, that I had to prove myself more, and I’m sure other female veterans will echo this sentiment. Now that I’ve left the military, I can see how these ingrained ways of thinking had quite a negative impact on my confidence.

Female Veterans in Cyber Security
How can we encourage more female veterans into cyber security careers?

Do you think we should have more female vets in cyber? Why?

Definitely!  Female veterans could play a really important role in transforming the culture within the cyber security industry. Having survived and even thrived in the military is something that gives female veterans an edge in the cyber industry, as they know how to work well in extremely challenging conditions. I know a number of female ex-military colleagues that have gone into mentoring roles, determined to change the idea that you have to give up your femininity in order to be able to succeed in a male dominated environment.

I think that desire and determination to improve the situation, whether that’s through mentoring other women or by helping to re-educate largely male workforces to be more accepting of female contributions, is something that female veterans have in spades.  The cyber security industry is changing, it is becoming more inclusive and diverse, but I really believe that there is a place there specifically for strong, experienced female veterans who can help lead that change.

Why do you think CAPSLOCK has received so few applications from female veterans?

I think from a statistical perspective, if you consider that only 11% of military personnel are female, it’s always going to be a challenge targeting female veterans because there aren’t that many compared to male veterans.

However, I think there may be other reasons, not least that the cyber security industry has a reputation for being very technical in nature. Of course, many female veterans are technically minded, but it can be intimidating at first. In my experience, women often shy away from “technical roles” and this is probably true of some female veterans, too. However, CAPSLOCK does a great job at dispelling the myth that cyber is all about “tech”, and shows that cyber roles are far more diverse than people think.

Cyber also has a similarly male-dominated reputation as the military. That’s not necessarily an incorrect reputation, but it is a culture that is changing. 35% of CAPSLOCK’s first learners were female, and it would be great to see some veterans amongst the next cohorts. Our different learning schedules can fit quite well around other responsibilities, children for example. Here at CAPSLOCK, we’ve proven that “mums can do cyber too”, including both staff and learners.

How could we encourage female veterans into cyber security?

Primarily I think by showing female veterans that CAPSLOCK is a safe space.  It’s inclusive, it’s welcoming and it supports learners in a way that is so much more than “just a cyber training course”.  I know I’m biased but I honestly think a CAPSLOCK course is the ideal resettlement course because all the things you worry about when you leave the military are addressed, whether it’s through the flexibility of the course hours or the careers mentoring you receive.  

I think the fact that CAPSLOCK Full Time courses run during the school day (9:30am – 2:30pm) and Part Time in the evenings (6pm – 9pm) is really beneficial for female veterans who may be juggling parenting responsibilities.  That flexibility to be able to study and to still be able to do the school run is something most courses just don’t offer.  

Another thing I love about CAPSLOCK is all the career support that learners get.  As a veteran, I struggled with job applications because I never felt confident in my transferable skills. I was unsure about how to sell myself and, even though I knew I must be employable, I didn’t really understand that the skills I’d learned in the military could really help me stand out to employers.  The CAPSLOCK careers team is totally focussed on ensuring learners CV’s are well formulated and matching the right people to the right jobs.  I think when you’re unsure of what your own skills are and exactly what you have to offer, it’s a really nurturing and confidence-building environment from which to progress.

I think female veterans respond well to role models they can identify with, so showing fellow female veterans being successful in cyber roles is really key to getting female veterans involved.

Anna is now a tutor for CAPSLOCK, helping adults re-skill into cyber security.

What would your advice be to a female veteran looking to re-skill?

Get yourself on a CAPSLOCK Cyber Security course! Sometimes transitioning out of the military can be daunting. You can end up wondering what transferable skills you actually have and doubting your own abilities.  CAPSLOCK offers a really amazing opportunity to put a  spotlight on those vital transferable skills whilst also giving you the chance to learn some new ones, all within an inclusive and nurturing environment.  You’d be amazed how many of the skills you pick up in the military can transfer to cyber security.

It was a pleasure to spend time with Anna discussing her experiences in the military and her thoughts about why cyber security is an industry where female veterans can thrive.

If this article has struck a chord with you and you’d like to learn more about CAPSLOCK’s cyber security re-skilling bootcamps, visit:

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