You may have heard that the cybersecurity skills gap is widening, and that there is a massive shortage of cyber professionals today. In fact, Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that there will be up to 3.5 million job openings in the field by 2021. In spite of the growing need for people in cyber, women continue to be underrepresented in the field.
According to major findings from the 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study :
- Women are globally underrepresented in the cybersecurity profession at 11%, much lower than the representation of women in the overall global workforce.
- Globally, men are 4 times more likely to hold C-suite and executive-level positions, and 9 times more likely to hold managerial positions than women.
- In 2016 women in cybersecurity earned less than men at every level.
It’s no surprise that women are the underdog across plenty of male-dominated industries. So why is it so important for women to close the gender gap in cyber?
We need diverse perspectives in cybersecurity
Firstly, cyber is an area that benefits greatly from utilizing people with diverse perspectives and histories to solve problems. As threat actors and black hat hackers often come from disparate backgrounds, the wider variety of people and experience that are defending our networks, the better the chances of success at protecting them.
Combat the stereotype that cyber is only for men
Secondly, as there are so many empty jobs in the field, it is ultimately detrimental for a factor like a gender to narrow the pool of people pursuing it. Unfortunately, the message is ingrained in women from a young age that tech and security are “masculine” professions, which results in a self-perpetuating cycle of unconscious bias against women in the field. These problems are difficult to fix because they are subtle and pervasive and often come back to issues in culture and education. In fact, an online survey, Beyond 11% , found that most women have ruled out cybersecurity as a potential job by the age of 15. This is unacceptable!
Everyone can learn cyber
Finally, there is a misconception that the cybersecurity industry is only for people with highly technical skills. Unfortunately, the “bad guy” hackers out there don’t require crazy technical skills to get to your personal information. Fortunately, being on the defensive lines don’t require them either. Cybersecurity is a highly trainable field and has a growing need for people in more positions than ever before, such as legal, marketing, and public policy – all of which women have proven to excel in. In fact, the communication skills, problem-solving and attention to detail skill sets needed to excel in cybersecurity are skills women possess and are really good at.
Introducing more women to cybersecurity
Programs and Events
Since many of these problems start for women from a young age and through somewhat unconscious societal and cultural constructs, it can feel like a daunting task to get women more involved in cyber. In order to combat these misconceptions, many programs and events have been put into place to provide young women with female role models in the cybersecurity field. Events such as the Women in Cybersecurity Seminar, Women in Cybersecurity Conference, and Cyber Day for Girls are just a small number of direct-action groups that companies like IBM have put in place to address the gender gap. Further cyber competitions like the Wicked6 Cyber Games , and organizations like the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu and Girls Who Code are dedicated to introducing young women to cyber at that earlier age before they are told “it is not for them.”
Cybersecurity Mentorships and Internships
Mentorships and internships are another great way to introduce girls to other women in cybersecurity fields they may think are beyond their reach. Volunteers from tech companies have been going to summer camps specifically designed to encourage young girls to consider careers in STEM, such as the Tech Trek summer camp. Additionally, the Girl Scouts just introduced the first ever cybersecurity badge , which can be earned by completing curriculum and gamified learning around internet safety.
Persistent cyber career development
Another way we can support and retain women who choose cybersecurity roles is for companies have policies in place that ensure women do not miss out on opportunities to further their careers after having children. Things like flexible hours and the option to work from home can be key in maintaining a diverse and productive workforce. Hiring managers can also work to ensure equal employment opportunities when looking to hire for a new position. People from all backgrounds should feel welcome to apply for roles in this highly trainable and accessible field.
We need all hands-on deck now more than ever in cybersecurity, tech and STEM fields. Communicating to girls at a young age that technology isn’t just for their male counterparts, and that it can offer them a long and rewarding career, is essential in closing the gender and skills gap in cyber.