Telecom Review Africa conducted an exclusive interview with the founders and key members of Women for Cyber Africa (WFCA), namely Ghita Slaoui, Founder and President; Housna Hamadet, Founder and Vice President; Sophia Khaldane, Founder and Secretary General; and Samia Jlil, Vice Secretary General. In this discussion, we delve into the pioneering work of Women for Cyber Africa, an organization dedicated to empowering women in cybersecurity.

With a clear mission to bridge the gender gap in the field, Women for Cyber Africa has created a supportive and inclusive community where African women can thrive. Through their comprehensive mentorship programs, upskilling initiatives, networking events, and impactful awareness campaigns, they are paving the way for success and unlocking the immense potential of women in the cybersecurity industry.

How does Women for Cyber Africa empower talented African women to carve their own paths in the cybersecurity field?

At Women for Cyber Africa, we are a community sharing strong values of commitment, collaboration, ethics and equality. We provide a safe and inclusive environment for women to share, advance, learn, and inspire others to join the field. Empowering women is not enough in the cybersecurity field, as women are highly underrepresented in Africa, [accounting for] 9% of the workforce according to the last report of (ISC)2.

Nevertheless, joining a community that has a strong impact and presence across the continent — a network of professionals, mentors and advocates — will empower women to advance in the field and raise awareness to break the bias, train, promote and retain women in the field. At Women for Cyber Africa, we have decided to focus our efforts on multiple programs designated for women, no matter where they are in their journey:

  • W-GROW Mentorship program: pairs experienced women and men in cybersecurity with aspiring female professionals. Mentors will provide guidance, share their experiences, offer career advice, and help build professional networks.
  • W-UPSKILL program: through workshops, boot camps, webinars and power skills training, we are aiming to help women navigate through the career ladder and build the necessary skills and personal brand to thrive in the cybersecurity field.
  • W-NETWORKING: Women for Cyber Africa will host an annual conference to meet and greet, quarterly events for women to mingle and job fairs to find the right opportunities for young professionals and students. We are aiming to provide opportunities for women to connect with industry professionals, share knowledge, and foster a sense of community.
  • W-AWARENESS: Women for Cyber Africa advocates for gender diversity and equality in cybersecurity. We are working to build strategic long-term partnerships and collaboration with academic institutions, government agencies and industry partners to raise awareness about women's challenges, promote their achievements in the field, and advocate for policies to create a supportive environment for women in the near future.

What specific steps has your organization taken to upskill individuals in the field of cybersecurity in Africa?

Financial losses in Africa are worth billions of dollars to cybercrime each year, according to Afripol's latest report, yet 90% of organizations on the continent lack the proper plan to respond to the increasing complexity of threats. Women for Cyber Africa’s vision is to upskill women to help at our scale to tackle this major collective challenge. Our program, W-UPSKILL, will provide cybersecurity training on information security, network security and governance through partnerships with industry leaders, academic partners and women experts in the field. The program will also provide the right guidance through our W-GROW mentorship program to upskill through specialization, helping to close the gap in skills with tailored programs.

How do you raise awareness about the importance of cybersecurity in Africa as well as its potential career opportunities in the region?

Cybersecurity in Africa can only advance with the commitment from all stakeholders; it is about building a safe digital continent. Women for Cyber Africa is working on strong partnerships with the education sector and private and public organizations to raise this awareness to the highest level.

WFCA advocates unlocking an unprecedented opportunity for nations’ growth. Cybersecurity is nonnegotiable when it comes to foreign investment today, it is also the only way we can accelerate the digital transformation. Moreover, it can be an important revenue stream for many African companies. Thus, the advancement of women in cyberspace is not an option in Africa; it is a must-have for economic growth, the gender equality index and the availability of human resources to fill the gap of the workforce in the field, specifically with the digitalization post-COVID.

Women for Cyber Africa will focus on driving public awareness through targeted campaigns, social media newsletters and tips, online free webinars and media coverage, with an objective to educate about potential risks in Africa and best practices. We will also cover the topics of data protection, emerging threat techniques and mitigation tactics. These initiatives help reach a wider audience and foster engagement. The W-AWARENESS program’s second target is students at a young age; this program will help inculcate a culture of cybersecurity from an early stage.

In what ways does your organization actively promote and support women's participation in cyberspace?

Our mission is executed with an action plan, and we have started Awareness Events in universities and schools and meetings with policymakers and government executives in some countries to get their support on our programs. We will partner with private organizations for awareness, both for C-level executives and HR/hiring managers, and we will promote women’s participation with our four programs and media coverage. The W-ADVOCACY program built at WFCA will raise awareness about the gender gap in the digital world and advocate for equal opportunities for women. Our advocates (men and women) highlight the importance of women's participation in cyberspace and the benefits it brings to society. They will deliver research and content that will help companies and industry leaders include our recommendations in their diversity and inclusion agendas.

Are there any mentorship or networking programs in place to help women professionals connect, learn from each other and grow in their careers?

Embedded in our values is [the desire] to offer equal opportunities for all women, to give back to the community and to work to advance this cause together.

Women for Cyber Africa developed programs both for students and professionals: the W-GROW program for women at early stages of careers; the W-NETWORKING program for women to have the opportunity to connect and learn from each other and unleash their potential through development programs and multiple events per year; and last but not least, the W-AWARENESS program will organize events for girls at universities to inspire them to join our field by meeting role models and hearing inspiring stories from passionate women in the field.

What future plans or strategies does your organization have to further address the shortage of women in cybersecurity and empower women professionals to further explore opportunities in the cybersecurity industry?

Our mid-term plan is to have our own think tank; it will offer a unique perspective from Africa with research done by subject matter experts on the continent.

Part of our long-term strategy is to build partnerships to extend the opportunity for women with a cybersecurity incubator; we dream to see many cybersecurity startups in Africa led by women.

Women for Cyber Africa aims to develop strategies beyond borders and boundaries. Why not dream about 1 million professional women in cybersecurity in Africa within the next 5 years if we have the right support and sponsorships.

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