Cyber security has become increasingly crucial, given the rising need to protect the online world from various threats and attacks. However, the under-representation of women in the workforce remains a critical challenge within the field. According to data from the World Bank, women represent only 24 per cent of the global cybersecurity workforce. In regions such as the Middle East and Africa, the figures plummet to 5 per cent and 9 per cent, respectively. ALSO READ: What must be done to enroll more girls in STEM Such disparities, exacerbated by gender digital literacy gaps, as pointed out by the World Bank, highlight the enormous potential that lies in promoting female participation in cyber security. The MentorHer Africa, a programme by Africa Quantitative Sciences (AQS), was established to bridge this gap. The initiative's aim is to empower women in the African region to take the reins in cyber security, governance, risk management and compliance (GRC), and other related domains. ALSO READ: A closer look at why women are leaving tech industry in droves According to the Programme Coordinator, Gisele Salama Urujeni, they do this by providing mentorship programmes, training and workshops, networking opportunities, scholarships and grants, raising awareness, advocating for inclusivity, as well as conducting research for data collection. “We connect aspiring female cyber security professionals with experienced mentors who provide guidance, support, and advice,” said Urujeni. “The programme also offers training and workshops on various aspects of cyber security, from technical skills to soft skills like leadership and communication. These help women build their expertise and confidence in the field.” According to Urujeni, MentorHer Africa also offers financial support in the form of scholarships or grants which makes it easier for women to pursue education and certifications in cyber security. ALSO READ: Why cyber security is critical today more than ever Through their outreaches such as speaking engagements, school visits, and media campaigns, Urujeni said they promote awareness about the importance of diversity in cyber security and encourage more women to join the field. Advocating for inclusivity and diversity in the workplace and working with organisations and industry leaders to create more inclusive cybersecurity environments is also part of the initiative’s work, said Urujeni. ALSO READ: NCSA discuss major cyber threats, mitigation strategies “Additionally, we conduct research on the challenges women face in the cyber security industry and use this data to drive initiatives and policies that promote gender diversity,” she continued, adding that highlighting successful women in cyber security inspires and motivates others to pursue careers in the field is another critical component of the programme. “We showcase female role models through interviews, case studies, and events. We have also established online communities where women can discuss challenges, share experiences, and seek advice and support from peers,” she explained. ‘Returnship’ Urujeni emphasised the significance of ‘returnship’ programmes, specifically in the cyber security field, as initiatives to aid individuals, particularly women, who have taken a career break. She said that the programmes also aim to facilitate a smooth transition back into the workforce by providing structured internship-like experiences, mentorship, and training. They also focus on rebuilding confidence, offering flexibility in work arrangements, and creating networking opportunities, Urujeni added. “Women are often underrepresented in the tech and cyber security industries, and career breaks can exacerbate the gender gap. Returnship programmes help address this by offering support, guidance, and a pathway to return to a career in a male-dominated field. These programmes also contribute to diversity and inclusion efforts within the industry,” she explained. Partnerships The initiative helps trainees acquire certification in the cyber security field, according to Urujeni. Mentioned certifications include Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), CompTIA Security+, Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), each catering to different aspects of information security. Urujeni said the certification is pursued based on individual factors such as prior experience, career goals, and specific areas of interest within cyber security. Forming strategic partnerships and collaborations with organisations, educational institutions, and industry stakeholders has been critical for MentorHer Africa to advance its objectives and extend its impact on the continent. Some collaborations include teaming up with Carnegie Mellon University Africa for cyber security education, partnering with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) to enhance educational offerings, and collaborating with financial institutions and industry stakeholders like the Ministry of ICT and Innovation and the National Cyber Security Authority to provide real-world experience and align the programme with industry needs. Urujeni said the partnerships aim to offer mentees access to quality resources, experience sharing, and various opportunities in the cyber security field. She said the programme also takes extensive steps to make its cyber security part inclusive for women in Africa. Urujeni highlighted that they conduct needs assessments, match mentors based on backgrounds, ensure cultural sensitivity, provide online learning, use diverse languages, design an inclusive curriculum, gather regular feedback, and build a supportive community. The official launch of the programme was graced by Minister of ICT and Innovation, Paula Ingabire and the CEO of National Cyber Security Authority (NCSA), David Kanamugire on September 29.