Why are there So Few Women in Cybersecurity?
In fields like cybersecurity the industry is still in need of a large and diverse workforce, believe experts.
The stepping stones for women in cybersecurity date back to the 1940s, when the computer industry was still in its nascent stage. Brave women dubbed as ‘code girls’ worked secretly in wartime intelligence during the World War II breaking codes for the Army and Navy. These women were the precursors of what we now call women in cybersecurity.
Fast forward to 2020s and we have come a long way. The women of the 21st century are breaking glass ceilings – becoming leaders and setting great examples not only in the field of technology and science but in every walk in life. The worry however is why the number of women in IT and technology roles continue to be dramatically lower than that of men. The difference is even more startling in specialized role such as cybersecurity. Today women comprise just 24% of the cybersecurity workforce and in leadership positions it is even less than 11% – the numbers indisputably suggest there’s still a long way to go.
According to the 2020 (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Study, gender disparities persist around the globe. The highest percentage of women cybersecurity professionals is in Latin America, with 40%, while in North America the figure is just 21%. The results in Europe and Asia-Pacific are at 23% and 30% respectively.
Cybersecurity isn’t all about becoming a code jockey; critical thinking skills, curiosity, and problem-solving abilities go a long way toward success in the field. And because of the ongoing talent shortage, salaries in cybersecurity are high. According to PayScale, the average base salary for a cybersecurity analyst ranges from $64,235 for entry-level positions to $112,984 for experienced pros.
Unfortunately, the industry is currently experiencing a global shortage of about four million professionals, according to the Cybersecurity Workforce Study. Research shows, a more equitable gender ratio in cybersecurity teams benefits businesses. As Jennifer Sunshine Steffens, CEO of cybersecurity services provider IOActive, expressed a similar sentiment to cybersecurity news site Fifth Domain: Without women on a cybersecurity team, she said, “you lose out on a lot of diverse perspectives.” Boosting diversity helps organizations “stay up to speed” on cyber threats.
An often-cited issue is the lack of female role models and encouragement to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. Many women simply haven’t met anyone working in the field of cybersecurity. That makes it a grey area for them. A research done by Girls Who Code shows that although 74% of middle school girls express interest in STEM subjects, only 0.4% of high school girls choose to major in computer science.
“The cyber security field is in a very nascent and a developing phase and it is a very exciting journey as far as cyber security is concerned,” Deepa Seshadri, Partner, Deloitte India said in a recent conversation with CXOToday.
On how women can succeed in this field, she said, “Women should constantly upskill themselves and learn new things that are coming up from a cyber security standpoint. There are several courses available like the Cyber Shiksha that is offered by DSCI, is something that you could take up and learn and outshine in this field.
Seshadri also emphasized on the ability to have the right role model and the right mentor for women to shape their capabilities and be successful as women cyber leaders.
“It is also very important for us to network in this field and look at cyber security just not as a technology related issue, but also from a business standpoint that is something that cyber professionals have to look into which is a best mix for us from a career standpoint,” she mentions.
Experts believe that diversity brings different perspectives and fresh outlooks to the table, which can change the status quo. As Jacquie Young, Senior Director of Channels, APAC, Tenable opined, “Innovation sits at the core of cybersecurity and failing to innovate would mean we’re not delivering new solutions to keep people and businesses safe in the changing threat landscape. If everyone on a security team thinks the same, the race has already been lost with attackers.”
“A diverse workforce is a prerequisite to unlocking the full potential of any team or organization. Only through increased inclusion and diversity – of race, gender, perspective and thought – can our industry achieve greater creativity and innovation, think outside the box, and outmaneuver our adversaries,” she said.
Women in cybersecurity need to support each other — sharing their thoughts, championing ourselves, connecting to colleagues, having wider reach and encouraging fellow women in cybersecurity to aim for bigger targets. It’s also time to train and educate a diverse workforce that promises equal chances for all.