Finding New Opportunities for Women in Cybersecurity

There is undoubtedly a skills shortage in the field of cybersecurity in the US — which is concerning. Cybersecurity has long been a male-dominated field which begs the question “Why are there so few women in cybersecurity?” According to the Women in Cyber Security Literature Review, women are vastly underrepresented in the cybersecurity industry. The underlying issue behind the disparity between women and men is because women aren’t generally seen as technology professionals. Although young girls are exposed to Science, Technology Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers from a young age, they aren’t encouraged to pursue careers in Information Technology. Our educational system needs to overcome the stereotypical questioning of a women’s ability to excel in the sciences.

According to an international Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) survey, women in cybersecurity today make up only 11 percent of the security workforce globally. Of that 11 percent, 50 percent of these positions are either entry-level or nonmanagerial positions. Over 1,500 of the survey respondents said males made up the entire security function within their organization. Many of the respondents did not believe their organizations prioritized increasing the number of women in cybersecurity roles or advancing them within the organization.

Female Role Models

There are a variety of reasons women don’t enter the cybersecurity space from the perception that it’s a male-dominated field, to the lack of female role models and career opportunities. Traditionally women in the cybersecurity industry have experienced wage inequality and widespread discrimination along with occupational segregation. That is fast changing in the US especially in major corporations like healthcare and manufacturing.

The lack of female role models has been a significant roadblock for women pursuing a career in cybersecurity despite women having made significant advances in the world of technology. Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer and a gifted mathematician. She was a pioneer in the computing world realizing that an analytical engine could perform calculations. Ida Rhodes with her great ability of analysis designed the first computer for use by the Social Security Administration. Margaret Hamilton was one of the first computer software programmers and helped write the in-flight code for Apollo 11 and the Skylab. More recently, Katie Bouman created a new algorithm to produce the first-ever image of a black hole. More women like this are needed in the tech world.

In the past decade, women are already doing great things in technology-related fields. We have seen them push through the glass ceiling obtaining senior positions in cyber-related fields. For instance, Angela McKay was the Senior Director of Cybersecurity and Strategy at Microsoft and she is now the Director of Emerging Threats and Risk Mitigation prevention at Google. Ann Barron DiCamilo spent three years as head of the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT). Essye Miller was appointed the Deputy Chief Information Officer for Cybersecurity for the Department of Defense. These women are an inspiration for other women looking to enter into a predominantly male-dominated industry.

Cybersecurity Job Opportunities

The interesting thing is, according to Cybersecurity Ventures, there will be 3.5 million job openings in cybersecurity by 2021. In 2019 cybersecurity unemployment in this sector was at zero percent which means there are plenty of opportunities in the tech industry for women should they choose to pursue it. However, this also requires a societal shift in attitude towards women and technology. Employers today are seeking diversity in their workforce which means more women are expected to be hired in cyber-related fields. Because there is a major skills shortage, coupled with high demand, cybersecurity roles pay extremely well. According to CNBC, a cybersecurity professional with a bachelor’s degree would expect an average salary of around $116,000. 

More than half of all women-owned businesses fall into one of these three categories, meaning women are frequently in competition with each other There are multiple incentives and scholarships to attract women to a career in cybersecurity. Working in cybersecurity is intriguing with a face-paced and busy lifestyle and equally, it allows women to grow their knowledge and confidently make smart decisions ultimately strategizing and keeping out harmful actors in the digital world. There is something really satisfying about doing good by protecting an organization whether it’s a major corporation, NGO, smaller organizations, or a government entity against a cyberattack. Every day represents the opportunity to make a difference because everyone, everywhere needs cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity Needs More Women

We know cyber-related roles need more women however they should not be intimidated by pursuing a career in a male-dominated field because of the skills shortage. According to the 2019 ISC Workforce Study, in an era of high profile data breaches and devastating cyberattacks, there is a significant gap of unfilled positions in cybersecurity and the number of qualified professionals who can fill them.  The study estimates that nearly 805,000 cybersecurity professionals are working in the U.S. and the workforce needs to grow by 62 percent in order to meet the demands of US businesses in the future. By cutting out 50 percent of the population by not creating an environment where women can excel in a career in cybersecurity and thrive, this still leaves 3.5 million job vacancies in cybersecurity across the US.

How to Bridge the Gap

But how do employers bridge the gap between a lack of women in STEM-related fields? Cybersecurity has an image problem and this needs to be addressed if it’s ever going to going to close the gender and skills gap currently prevalent in the industry. There’s a preconceived idea that computer science expertise is essential to success and cybersecurity professionals spend all their days writing code. Not all skills required in cybersecurity involves being behind the computer and coding. 

Addressing the revenue disparity would also help enhance the social Cybersecurity roles are multi-faceted as they involve everything from people management to threat hunting. Research tells us that women, in particular, want technology roles to involve 45 percent of analytical thinking, 24 percent of creative thinking, and 21 percent collaborative work in order to feel satisfied and thrive in their roles. They want to work on exciting and innovative projects and do consider cybersecurity to be of the utmost importance in the tech industry. Highlighting these conditions in job descriptions will naturally attract more women into the industry. 

According to the Crest report, “More women choose the managerial side of the industry because it offers a better work/life balance, the tech side requires a lot of keeping up with industry advances and changes, and more unsociable, less family-friendly hours.” This means advertising an organization as a female-friendly place to work with prospects of furthering their careers is likely to attract more women applying for these roles.

Industry representation in the media needs to change to encourage more women to explore the world of cybersecurity.  Kaspersky Lab reported that only 11% of young people met a woman working in cybersecurity. This highlights the need to use more women as role models for young women to look up to. When women meet another woman working in the sector, 63% reported they thought more positively about pursuing a career in cybersecurity. Many women in leadership positions recognize this as an issue and support the move to bring about greater awareness of the work women are already doing in the industry along with the need for more female mentors.

The Cybersecurity Career Path

The biggest barrier to women entering the cybersecurity industry comes back to gender stereotypes at school age. The number of females studying computer science is lower than males which is an early blocker for increasing gender diversity in the industry. Initiatives like Cyber First have had some impact on getting more females interested in cybersecurity in the UK, however, there is still more work to be done in this area within the US.

Most young people make a decision about their future career as a freshman in high school. When it comes to STEM, future career aspirations are varied when it comes to gender. Encouraging young females to consider information technology as a career choice needs to start in high school. For instance, The Institute for Cybersecurity Education offers an advanced four-year high school Cyber Security track to the general school population and at IT Specialty schools. They claim to be the only organization to successfully develop and implement a secondary cybersecurity course track during the normal school day and year. High school students taking this paid program use elective periods beginning with the 9th grade and continue through the 12th grade, where they take specific courses, in sequence, culminating in job-ready skills.

For younger females, CyberSecurED offers cybersecurity camps and after school programs starting at grade 3 where they can learn coding and develop games using cybersecurity concepts. The company also offers courses for 6th to 12th graders where they learn more about Cybersecurity concepts, common hacker threats, and prepare for cybersecurity competitions.

Supporting Women In Cybersecurity

Most women are unaware that there are online groups that support women in cybersecurity. Forbes magazine posted a “Top 15 Women in Cybersecurity and InfoSec” article to celebrate women in cybersecurity. There are also groups like Women in Cybersecurity (WyCyS), who are focused on helping close the gap between women and men working in cybersecurity. Tech Women Network is a digital community for technical women as its a platform for women in technology to connect, showcase their skills, and find resources to help them in their careers. Women Who Code is an international nonprofit dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology-related fields.

Closing the gender gap and encouraging more women to consider a career in cybersecurity will benefit organizations of all sizes and boost the economy. This means the media needs to change its approach to encourage more women to explore the cybersecurity industry and bring more visibility to the industry. If women rank creativity and collaboration in the top five skills they need to thrive in cybersecurity, then communicating these skills along with the technical skills is paramount for recruiting women into the industry. Listing skills like teamwork, communication, and creativity alongside analytical skills will go a long way to attracting more women into cybersecurity roles.

Women can be geeks too yet the Silicon Valley tech universe is notorious for its male-dominated culture where the term ‘brogrammer’ emerged to characterize how women are marginalized as potential candidates. This means men must also become more active as proponents, and sponsors for women in cybersecurity and breakdown gender stereotypes. No more images that present cybersecurity professionals as predominantly white males in hoodies working in a dark basement. Research has shown that gender stereotypes like this impede women’s entry into cyber-related roles. It’s time to remove any unconscious basis and take away gender-specific language targeting men in job advertisements. 

If organizations focus on bringing greater awareness to the diverse set of skills involved in careers in cybersecurity, this will make a huge difference in bridging the gender and skills gap existing in the US today. They can amplify their efforts to attract more women to the industry through social media and involvement in local and national industry groups and raise greater awareness of those women already working in cybersecurity.

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