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April 11, 2024

Why diversity is essential for innovation

Tech companies can only succeed if they embrace diversity – a commitment that every senior leadership team in the industry should have already made.

By Dr. Yvonne Bernard

Diverse leadership is essential for tackling the challenges that face any company. STEM sectors, including cybersecurity, are particularly impacted by limited gender diversity, with only 28% of women holding C-suite positions globally.

Historically, however, tech companies have used a formulaic approach to hiring: rigid job descriptions with strict requirements that are often biased toward men. Consequently, these same businesses are deprived of the wealth of talent on offer from non-male applicants and, with it, a chance to compete at a level pegging with their competitors.

It’s a cycle that I have endeavoured to break for my own career in tech. Following five years in academia, I entered the world of cybersecurity in 2014 as a personal assistant to Hornetsecurity’s CEO, Daniel Hofmann. As a PhD graduate, the insight into business strategies and management I gained through working with Daniel was transformative, helping me progress to become head of product management, and then, eventually, CTO in 2021. As such, I was afforded an opportunity many others aren’t: hands-on mentorship, exposure to various aspects of the operation, and a chance to strengthen diversity throughout the company as I ascended its ranks.

An executive addressing a diverse audience, used to illustrate an article about the importance of diversity in technology companies.
CTOs have a vital role to play in fostering a culture of diversity within the company they represent. (Photo by Shutterstock)

Outstanding CTO traits transcend gender

Proven capabilities transcend gender, and I believe there are three skills any CTO must possess.

Firstly, good communication is essential. A large part of my role includes liaising with a diverse range of stakeholders and customers, both internally and externally. People often assume that CTOs are all about tech or systems architecture, but there’s so much more to this role. Translating complex technical concepts into understandable language for non-technical individuals requires an ability to communicate in a simple, effective way. This involves articulating plans, strategies, and directions clearly and concisely, to help people from all backgrounds align with the company’s vision.

Agility is also crucial for navigating the changing landscape of technology and business. CTOs must adapt to market conditions, grasp emerging technologies, and understand evolving customer demands. Proactivity is necessary to anticipate and address future challenges: in cybersecurity, for example, we always have to be on the front foot to help navigate issues such as the growing malicious use of AI. Clients require us to be dynamic, responsive, and knowledgeable on the current and prospective threat landscape.

Additionally, willingness to learn is essential. While technical expertise holds significance, a readiness to learn will consistently distinguish individuals and keep them on top of industry trends. I’ve always been passionate about research: I previously worked in academia and published over 20 papers on security, cloud computing, and AI, among others. It’s important to lead by example to build a culture of learning and development within an organisation. At Hornetsecurity, we host podcasts and webinars on the latest cybersecurity findings which have helped to inspire people with this mindset.

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The tangible benefits of diverse leadership

Arguably, these are the skills that any CTO should boast. Added to that is the responsibility to ensure that they cultivate diverse leadership within the business they serve. By prioritising diversity, CTOs can more easily discourage prejudice and create a workplace where often marginalised groups – including women – can thrive. Senior leadership should strive to encourage employees to follow their passions, regardless of barriers and biases that have historically discouraged them.

These biases are often created from an early age. After all, in many parts of the world, girls are steered away from science and tech by teachers and parents. United Nations research estimated that the deterrence of women from these fields has led to a $1trn loss in the GDP of low- and middle-income countries. For their part, businesses are uniquely positioned to recognise and fight biases to create a culture that breaks these stereotypes and demonstrates that women have a valuable place in these industries.

Having a team with varying backgrounds and experiences brings an organisation a host of internal benefits. A broader range of perspectives and ideas always creates greater innovation and creativity. On top of this, diverse teams are uniquely positioned to be effective problem-solvers. They are equipped with the skills to approach challenges from multiple angles, a facility which increases the likelihood of finding effective solutions and well-rounded conclusions.

Employees may also feel more valued and welcomed when a business has an inclusive culture. This can result in increased job satisfaction and improved performance when there is representation at senior levels.

We must work in progressive environments. This is true of any industry, but especially cybersecurity – where we are required to stay ahead of emerging malicious techniques, industry trends, and current threats. Diversity encourages innovation and I am proud to work for a company that champions inclusivity.

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