As the world celebrated womanhood and women’s contribution to society on International Women’s Day, we at CISO MAG decided to devote the month of March to all the women in cybersecurity. The purpose of this article is to highlight the role of women in the industry and address several issues they face. This was in the light of the revelation that women’s representation in cybersecurity has been less than a quarter and has remained that way for almost a decade, if not more. Most of the problems faced by women can be traced back to the earliest days of their education, where stereotypes begin.
Here’s what the women in cybersecurity have to say on gender disparity, representation, and diversity in the industry:
1Security is an aptitude
Right mindset: It has been widely preached that women lack adroitness in technical subjects. And to some extent, it has been imbibed in their beliefs as well. They are said to be good at creativity. What people don’t get is that the crux behind cybersecurity is the figurative thinking of great minds who are enthusiastic about exploring and exploiting cyberspace. So, the day we change the thought process of women that they are born with the skills required to survive in the field, is the day these trends will favor their growth. All that is required is a little practice and patience. It’s all about the mindset.
Gender disparity: I would second that the disparity traces its roots back to school. I have often heard people preaching that “Tech is for men and kitchen is for women”. On the contrary, I have witnessed some unparalleled men in the baking business and women in the tech space. It has nothing to do with gender. It is not just women but everyone in general who needs to be enlightened. Not much has been done about educating students about cybersecurity. I believe there has to be a separate program for bringing up cybersecurity awareness amongst the kids. The pros and cons of cyberspace need to be assimilated deep down into their roots right from the start. This is how we can make a change and our nation cyber safe. One more approach other than the awareness programs would be giving them exposure to unmediated scenarios in the form of games or challenges. This will catch their attention and make them brainstorm about the importance of security of their device and their data. This is how they would safely use their gadgets.
Diversity in cybersecurity: Specifically, with cybersecurity, it’s a specialized niche where you want a varied group of folks to provide that input. Security is an aptitude to look into details and no one is better than women at it. Security is inbuilt in their DNA. The drawback of not having women’s participation is that we miss the most inquisitive minds that the universe has to offer.
The tech industry is grappling with two big challenges. First, it is struggling to fill jobs with qualified candidates. The second, the remedies to which will also help cure problem #1, is diversifying beyond the current homogeneous band that fills the high-tech halls. Both problems are even more acute in the cybersecurity sector.
It’s not a woman or race issue, it’s a people issue that we need to know and be aware of.
Gender gap: Yes, there is a wide gender gap in the cybersecurity industry. According to (ISC)2 ’s Global Information Security Workforce Study, women in infosec represent 10% of the global workforce. Whereas 26% of IT professionals worldwide are women. There is a perception that cybersecurity is all about “HACKING” and this negative portrayal keeps women away from this industry. Most of them look for safe and respectable career options. Also, it’s a hard reality that cybersecurity is a male-dominated sector, with very few cybersecurity startups/organizations led by women.
To bridge the gap, we need to start with education and initiatives at schools and the college level. Industry connections with engineering colleges should facilitate workshops, classes, and demonstrations to create awareness about various roles and opportunities in the sector. This, in turn, can inspire students to strive for the right career path in cybersecurity.
Also, there is a lack of female role models in the cybersecurity industry. Appointing ambassadors and promoting women in this sector will inspire the younger generation.
Special scholarship programs for girls interested in cybersecurity, discounted trainings, and the participation of women cybersecurity leaders in security conferences will improve the visibility and participation of women in the industry. This participation can act as a strong myth-buster and remove all the negative impressions associated with the term ‘HACKING.’
Hiring opportunities: Given the huge skills gap in the cybersecurity industry, there is a strong need for an inclusive workforce. A diverse workforce is more productive and that research shows increased profitability in companies with more women, at the senior level.
Businesses can start with sharing the stories of women who are succeeding across all levels in the organization. The long-term approach can expand the early-in-career talent funnel that is reaching out to on-campus girl students for internships and placements.
As a matter of a fact, at DigiSec360 we have more women cybersecurity professionals than men.
Training and mentorship: There is no doubt that training and mentorship/coaching are the key initiatives for developing the women workforce in cybersecurity. Collaboration with industry leaders and non-profit organizations, and alignment with local chapters of organizations like WISP, DSCI, WiSYS, InfosecGirls, etc., will yield results.
However, when it comes to mentoring, though women tend to mentor other women more, considering very few women at the senior level, there is a strong need for building a pool of male mentors in the industry.
Sponsoring training and certification for enthusiastic and bright women employees is going to be a welcome step.
3Women role models are scarce
Less representation of women: There is a societal view that a career in Cybersecurity/Information Technology is a path mostly for men even though there is nothing that predisposes men to be more interested in this field. Society has conditioned women to believe that Cybersecurity/Information Technology roles require technical skills or can be tedious, making women lean more towards social sciences.
This has geared the Women’s fold to have low interest even from using it as a career.
The lack of substantive and adequate role models in cybersecurity across the globe is also a contributing factor.
Lack of women role models: The rate of representation of women in cybersecurity is 24% and about 20% in technology; women role models are scarce that other women can look up to, in the field. This is because the cybersecurity field is perceived as a male-dominated one, and there are insufficient women at the leadership level.
Besides, the industry’s limited role models could be based on another perception that the industry abhors work-life balance. It is one of the possible reasons for the gender gap, but it is good to note that this narrative is gradually changing. If an increased number of women excel, it will encourage more ladies to join the industry.
Cybersecurity scholarships for women: In cybersecurity, scholarships are important to encourage more women to get into the field, and many STEM programs are geared towards this. Encouraging and effectively engaging women and young girls in STEM would boost their confidence and lay the groundwork for future leaders who would make substantial cybersecurity contributions.
Funding could be a major issue for female inclusion in the industry; scholarships for women will encourage women’s integration as certifications help prove the women’s capability on a merit basis rather than the subjective opinion of recruiters.
What can men do? As men hold the largest percentage in the workforce leadership, they can support women by leveling the playing field with men. The men in the leadership roles can join women in advocating for inclusion, mentoring, sponsorship, and ending the gendered division of labor in the workplace.
Trusting females with the more technical aspect of the field may help improve confidence and easy integration. Executive management and the board’s support are vital because we are still operating in a male-dominated leadership environment.
Set specific shared goals for the representation of women and regularly measure progress toward them.