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The Importance of Women in Cybersecurity

In the 1800s, many male-only industries finally began opening their doors to women. This quickly became a catalyst for women interested in science and technology to pursue jobs in related fields. While opportunities for advancement in those fields were limited for women, many still found a way to make their mark.

One prime opportunity emerged during the first half of the 20th century. Some of the first cybersecurity pioneers were young female college students enrolled at different Seven Sisters colleges. They received invitations from the government to become part of the codebreaker initiative during World War II because of their proven aptitude for math and science. It was a watershed moment, where the patriotism of young women helped lead allies to victory and paved the way for other women to launch careers in cybersecurity and related technology fields.

With such a promising start, why is it that women still struggle to gain equal footing in the field of cybersecurity? According to a report from the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)², women filled only 24 percent of available cybersecurity positions in 2018. That tracks with an overall trend in technology noted in a report from TrustRadius which revealed that 72 percent of women found themselves outnumbered by men, two to one.

The disparities are not limited to the U.S., and the gaps are even bigger for women in different countries around the world. Women fill only 10 percent of cybersecurity roles in the Asia-Pacific region and only 7 percent of roles throughout Europe. Out of all senior management positions in internet security, only 1 percent of them are filled by female workers. While women make up approximately 50 percent of the population, you don’t see that level of parity reflected in the cybersecurity field — or STEM fields in general.

With cybercrime costing the global economy over $400 billion each year — including $100 billion in the U.S. — we can’t afford to overlook qualified female candidates who can help combat the threat. Cyber Seek estimates that we currently need about 460,000 more people to fill open cybersecurity positions in the U.S.

You can also see the problem with staffing women reflected in other STEM-related fields. The stereotype about men being more suited to work in mathematics, engineering, technology, and science still exists — even though women score just as well or better than men in science and math-related tests.

Overcoming the idea that internet security is best left to men is just one of the barriers women seeking a career in cybersecurity must overcome. As a result, they have less access to opportunities made readily available to male candidates. An article from Computer Weekly notes that 69 percent of women didn’t pursue open IT positions, including those in cybersecurity, because they didn’t know about them.

Another reason women may have issues entering the cybersecurity industry is because of misperceptions about what it involves. Women are equally as qualified as men to handle the technical complexities within the field and many additional responsibilities require different skillsets. A successful cybersecurity unit also relies on human connection and the ability to communicate throughout different areas of an organization — areas where women often excel.

The field needs people capable of advising workers and higher-ups about security best practices that help keep companies safe. While software can handle the threat of viruses and malware, we need humans to guard and protect company networks and IT infrastructure against threats like phishing scams and attempts to steal user credentials to access protected information.

Another uphill battle that may discourage women from pursuing cybersecurity as a career is the disparity in pay that often occurs between themselves and their male colleagues. According to (ISC)², women currently working in lower-level cybersecurity positions paying up to $99,000 per year reported earning an average of 12 percent less than their male counterparts. Rates tended to level out as pay went over $100,000 — however, that’s offset by there being fewer women in senior-level cybersecurity positions. This is just a small portion of the gaps that exist for women all across the STEM field.

With cybercriminals constantly changing tactics, we need people from diverse backgrounds to tackle the problem. Adding women to cybersecurity ranks helps identify the emergence of the next security threat and devise effective responses. Women are equally capable of using the tools and protocols at their disposal to handle various security issues.

Having women on a cybersecurity team who can think strategically and outside the box can help companies more effectively address various factors threatening internet security. It’s vital to have a more diverse group of people who are capable of coming up with security plans more evolved than merely plugging in different pieces of software to handle threats. The differing perspectives brought by women can lead to better business decisions and more robust security protocols.

However, it’s not just about bumping up the percentage of female hires. Because you have hackers coming from all kinds of backgrounds, it’s essential to have a mix of viewpoints available to tackle the problem and improve our chances of success against cybercriminals. That involves a holistic approach from the industry and the positions within it. Cybersecurity careers aren’t limited to forensic computer analysts or security architects. Women are capable of filling a number of different roles in the field and offering value and a different perspective — including jobs in communications, business development, and more.

As more women are graduating with degrees that make them prime candidates for cybersecurity careers, the time is ripe for companies to push initiatives to diversify the hiring pool. An excellent way to start is for businesses to have their HR departments and hiring managers look outside the standard candidate pipelines. Instead of going to the same pool of talent, companies should consider cybersecurity training programs. They should also research associations focused on bringing in female talent.

Another way companies can encourage women to enter the cybersecurity workforce is by using company leaders in recruitment efforts. Encourage them to follow and join groups focused on empowering women. Your company influencers can play a major role in helping you find new female talent for your cybersecurity team.

Start reviewing the kind of wording used in job descriptions your company posts for security positions. Without realizing it, you could be using phrasing that subconsciously discourages women from applying for the job. Next, look at how you shape your job titles. Evaluate whether the phasing does enough to help the job placement come across as gender-neutral.

With less female representation in the field, women may feel discouraged from applying and accepting jobs in cybersecurity. Hiring more women in these roles will encourage others to explore these careers, and lessen the gender gap in the field.

You may have women within your organization who would love to make the switch to cybersecurity. Encourage their interest by creating networks and mentorships that guide female candidates down the path toward a career as a cybersecurity professional. You should also make sure that women candidates receive notification of potential job openings for cybersecurity. Ensure they have and know about opportunities for growth and development throughout their career. Finally, let them know how much you would value their contributions to the team if they got hired.

Make diversity among your cybersecurity team and other areas of your organization a priority. Look for ways to foster an environment of inclusion that makes it clear that looking down on others because of their sex — and other discriminatory factors — is unacceptable and not tolerated.

Women interested in cybersecurity can look to several professional organizations that are focused on female participation in the industry, like Women in Cyber Security (WiCyS) and Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu (WSC).

While women-focused groups play an essential role in providing positive encouragement, other industry organizations need to step up their efforts in encouraging female participation in cybersecurity. For example, women should be extended positions as keynote speakers at conferences. Showing that kind of respect to women in the field makes clear their importance to the success of the field.

There are encouraging signs of the changing tide when it comes to women’s acceptance in cybersecurity roles. For example, younger women entering the field are facing a less severe pay disparity compared to their male colleagues. There is also more progress to women getting hired to fill leadership roles within organizations. While there’s still a long way to go, it’s good to see that the good-faith efforts of so many are starting to pay off.

Companies need to highlight and celebrate the successes achieved by women who work in cybersecurity. Changing the industry’s perception as a male-only playground helps encourage potential female candidates to consider cybersecurity as a career.

Women can elevate the standards and capabilities of our field to help businesses, the government, and others stay protected against attackers.

Organizations must be willing to invest in long-term cultural changes. We need all hands on deck to handle the threats various industries face. Cybercriminals are coming up with new tactics to find vulnerabilities in our systems. We can’t allow talent to slip by because of a refusal to adjust our mindset and recognize women’s positive impact in cybersecurity and other technology fields.

If you’re looking for more guidance on how to move your cybersecurity program forward, CDG can help. We are shifting the cybersecurity consulting paradigm to address the needs of mid-market, cloud-native or cloud-reliant companies who are experiencing rapid growth.

Founded in 2016 by global security expert Lou Rabon, our nimble team draws on decades of experience and diverse technical expertise to deliver a full spectrum of information security advisory and implementation services on a fixed-cost basis. Our right-sized, results-driven approach will help you meet your immediate needs, but also ready you to navigate what’s ahead. Get in touch, and see what results are possible for your organization.