Have you Heard the Groundwater Story? 

 September 7, 2022

By  Jane Frankland

This week I’m bringing your attention to the Groundwater Story and Root Cause Analysis. It seems especially relevant considering Tim Cook’s media cry today,

In an exclusive interview with the BBC, the CEO of Apple said,

“There are still not enough women at the table of world teach firms, and technology will not achieve nearly what it could achieve without a more diverse workforce.”

He said there were “no good excuses” for the lack of women in the sector and recognised Apple still had a long way to go in order to reach gender parity.

Getting more girls to study STEM subjects at schools and higher education is a good thing, but when it comes to cyber we must not forget the Arts. That’s why I prefer to talk about STEAM. The additional letter (A) stands for Arts.

Art based subjects incorporate things such as Humanities: History, Philosophy, or Law; Social Sciences such as Politics, Sociology, Gender Studies, or Media Studies; and the obvious subjects such as Art and Music. The Arts allow us to receive new ways to draw connections, and they help to stimulate innovation in new cybersecurity products or services. By including the Arts, cybersecurity can open up its doors to a different kind of talent pool, and benefit from new ways of thinking.

Research also highlights how pathways to cyber are changing. While an IT background remains the single most common route taken, more than half of cyber professionals get their start outside of IT. This is also more common for younger professionals and for women, who appear to be entering from self-learning and cyber education.

Once women are in cyber or tech, that’s not the end of it. Like any employee, you want to retain her for as long as possible, and reap the benefit of your investment. But, according to a study by Accenture and Girls who Code, over half of all women entering tech will leave before they reach the age of 35. And that’s why you need to know about the Groundwater story.

The Groundwater Story

I first came across The Groundwater story when I was reading about the Racial Equity Institute (REI) and how they use the groundwater metaphor to help practitioners at all levels better understand and internalise the reality that society is racially structured; and the foundational structure of racism is what causes racial inequity.

It’s a fantastic metaphor and there’s much we can learn from it in terms of ending racism as well as for gender inequality in the workforce.

Here’s an excerpt from the ‘Groundwater Approach’ whitepaper:

“The fish, the lake and the groundwater: If you have a lake in front of your house and one fish is floating belly-up dead, it makes sense to analyze the fish. What is wrong with it? Imagine the fish is one student failing in the education system. We’d ask: did it study hard enough? Is it getting the support it needs at home?

But if you come out to that same lake and half the fish are floating belly-up dead, what should you do? This time you’ve got to analyze the lake. Imagine the lake is the education system and half the students are failing. This time we’d ask: might the system itself be causing such consistent, unacceptable outcomes for students? If so, how?

Now… picture 5 lakes around your house, and in each and every lake half the fish are floating belly-up dead! What is it time to do? We say it’s time to analyze the groundwater.”

Now, let’s apply the Groundwater Approach to women in cyber or tech.

If you’re leading a company or team and one woman is failing, burning out, or leaving, what would you do? Would you analyse the woman? Would you want to establish why she wasn’t working out? What was wrong with her? What she could be doing more or less of? Whether she was capable enough? Whether she was working hard enough? Whether she was getting the support she needed?

What if half of the women in your company or team are failing, burning out, or leaving? What would you do? Would you analyse your company systems? Would you look at your leadership, management, culture, talent management, etc?

Now, picture numerous cyber companies or teams, and in every one of them half of the women are failing, burning out, or leaving. What is it time to do?

What I want you to do next…

  1. If you’re leading, please consider the Groundwater Approach. Let us know, in the comments below, what you’re observing or what you’re doing that’s working. Please add to the conversation.
  2. Take our Women in Cyber Assessment.

From our work, we know there are 7 core strengths an organisation needs if it is to successfully attract, develop and retain women in cyber. Without each of these 7 core strengths an organisation will struggle. With an imbalance of the core strengths, an organisation may do well attracting women but then fail to advance them into leadership or have much good work undone when they experience high levels of female employee attrition. Do not leave this to chance, find out how well you’re doing and how you can improve.

Just 3 steps stand between you and your plan to make women standard in cyber.

  1. Take the assessment – Click on the link here and take the assessment. There are 16 questions, it will take you 5-10 minutes.
  2. Fill in your details – Fill in your name and email address and we’ll send you your report. You’ll also get access to monthly updates on the state of the cyber security industry
  3. Receive your 47-page report – Your 47-page report will be sent directly to your inbox. You’ll learn about the 7 Core Strengths needed to make women standard in cyber.

If you’re a leader in cyber who values women, or a woman in cyber, who wants to improve your results (and are ready to invest), and you’d prefer to talk to me, book a discovery calland learn how my team and I can help you succeed.

Photo by Liam Simpson on Unsplash

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Jane frankland


Jane Frankland is a cybersecurity market influencer, award-winning entrepreneur, consultant and speaker. She is the Founder of KnewStart and the IN Security Movement. Having held executive positions within her own companies and several large PLCs, she now provides agile, forward thinking organisations with strategic business solutions. Jane works with leaders of all levels and supports women in male dominated industries like cybersecurity and tech. Her book, IN Security: Why a failure to attract and retain women in cybersecurity is making us all less safe' is a best-seller.


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