Women and Cybersecurity
In a field that is already in sore need of bums in seats when it comes to filling the thousands of roles available, making a place for women in cybersecurity must become a priority not only for the sake of diversity but for the sake of the industry itself.
Paraphrasing CompTIA’s director of corporate communications, Steven Ostrowski, the tech industry doesn’t want to continue its traditional recruitment tactics that by some means or other exclude women whether unintentionally or not. Describing the female population as an “untapped labour pool” Ostrowski is not alone in his assertion that making cybersecurity and the larger tech industry more appealing to and welcoming of women, the industry has an opportunity to combat its critical talent shortage and close the controversial gender gap.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has revealed that 209,000 cybersecurity jobs went unfilled in 2015, while non-profit organisation the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu claims only 11% of the world’s information security workforce is female. Perception has a great deal to do with the alarming lack of women working in cybersecurity. With overly confusing and technical language that can come across as intimidating and rife with male subtexts, the cybersecurity industry needs to look to a more inclusive recruitment strategy. The sector too advertises itself almost purely on technical ability, when in fact there are a number of other skills that are equally as important, from analytical thinking and problem solving to effective customer management and excellent presentation and communication skills, both written and verbal.
Another issue industry-wide across the tech space is the lack of female role models, and though there are women acting as trailblazers for female kind in prominent cybersecurity roles, there are not enough school-age girls and career-ready women being given access or opportunity to them to properly understand their professional potential. This of course dovetails into the need for more women in senior leadership roles especially, in order to incentivise other women who are at the earlier stages of their career to see what it is possible to aspire to.
Chandra McMahon, Senior VP and Chief InfoSec Officer at Verizon is one such example of a success story in the senior security space, driving the company’s information security strategy, policy and processes among other things. Her advice to other women contemplating a career in cybersecurity is firstly, education. Education has been headlined as a critical step in nurturing young women into the world of cybersecurity, with parents and primary educators being held accountable in encouraging young girls’ interest in technology. With mathematics, science and engineering, from the STEM subject line-up, acting as the most promising foundation to a career in the security space, McMahon goes further to add that using a passion in these areas as a framework, women wanting to get a job in cybersecurity should be looking for any opportunity that encourages them to develop and learn new skills, employ creative problem solving and get to grips with transforming and building new business capabilities.
Having the support of a mentor or sponsor, either male or female, will offer female candidates a definite advantage in driving their cybersecurity career. It is difficult to stand out, particularly in a largely male-dominated sector, so having the right people in your corner will give you key insights into the way the industry works as well as important networking opportunities.
It is of course also important to continually educate yourself on the always changing technology front that affects the kinds of threats, tactics and technologies you will come into contact with working in cybersecurity. However, don’t allow the gaps in your knowledge or skillset to hold you back from the opportunities you want to apply for. Accept that while you may have a certain proportion of the expertise and tools required, the rest you will develop and learn on the job, which will only add to the enjoyment and satisfaction of the role.
By making women aware of their career options, particularly from school stage, with the right information and awareness we will hopefully see more women being recruited into cybersecurity. If companies want to keep their businesses moving forward and full of fresh ideas as to how to tackle cyber threats, they need to hire people from different backgrounds instead of taking on the same types of candidates with the same ideas and solutions. Diversity breeds variety and when working to combat a threat that is ever-evolving, a difference of opinion, background and approach will generate a solution worthy of today’s cybersecurity demands.