Women in the cybersecurity profession are committed to their roles for the long term, according to research data from (ISC)2. They view cybersecurity as a viable, rewarding career and a solid majority of them plan to stay in the profession until retirement. The research found that higher percentages of women in cybersecurity already planned to work in the field even before starting in the profession – and that interest in pursuing cybersecurity education is substantially higher among women under the age of 45. About two-thirds (68%) of women in cybersecurity polled by (ISC)2 say they plan to stay in the field for the remainder of their careers.
These findings come from the 2019 (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, which polled 3,237 individuals responsible for securing their organizations’ critical assets in North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific. Women accounted for 975 – 30% – of overall respondents, up from 24% the year before. While men still make up a majority of the cybersecurity workforce, the growing percentage of women, and their positions within organizations, suggests cybersecurity provides a rewarding career path for women who choose to pursue it.
Despite women’s gains in the profession, however, some inequities remain. Data reveals that women in cybersecurity still face disadvantages such as earning less than men and facing more obstacles to success in the field, such as discrimination.
Pathways to Cybersecurity
Women cybersecurity professionals comprised 30% of survey respondents, an increase of six percentage points over the prior year’s survey. While additional research is necessary to more confidently predict how many women are working in the field (now estimated at 2.8 million men and women globally), survey respondents – both women and men – estimated that women comprise more than 30% of their teams.
The study also provides clear evidence that many women (63%) working in cybersecurity planned to get into the field at least as early as their college days. Only 54% of men had the same plans. It is possible that some women were interested in cybersecurity even earlier than that. In recent years, academia, nonprofits, businesses and governments have launched initiatives to draw girls to computer sciences – and STEM fields in general – at an early age and those efforts may be paying off.
Survey results reveal that women under the age of 45 had a significantly higher interest in pursuing cybersecurity education compared to those aged 45 and above (69% vs. 37%). The rate was even higher with women aged 25-34 compared to women aged 35-44 (75% vs. 60%).
Despite relatively high interest by women in cybersecurity while in college, only slightly more than half (53%) of women interested in the profession started their careers in cybersecurity. However, that number is significantly higher than the 38% of men in the cybersecurity profession who began their careers in the field.
Business Impact of Gender Diversity
The strong interest by women in cybersecurity bodes well for the overall workforce. For one thing, it increases the talent pool available for cybersecurity roles. The industry is currently experiencing a global shortage of about four million professionals, according to the Cybersecurity Workforce Study.
In addition, a more equitable gender ratio in cybersecurity teams benefits businesses, Priscilla Moriuchi, a member of the Threat Intelligence team at Apple and a non-resident fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, told Forbes in 2018. “Diversity in perspectives, leadership, and experience is good for business. The wider variety of people and experience we have defending our networks, the better our chances of success.”
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.
As a whole, the (ISC)2 study found women and men in cybersecurity report similar satisfaction levels with their work, with 69% of women and 66% of men saying they are either very or somewhat satisfied. The number is more skewed toward women in the “very satisfied” category – 34% vs. 27% of men.
The study also reveals that a majority of women cybersecurity professionals are successfully progressing in their careers. Nearly one-third (32%) say they are “exactly where I was expecting to be with my career,” compared to 20% of men. Another third (33%) of women say they are “very close” and 22% “moderately close” to where they expected to be.
Looking ahead, more than half of women in cybersecurity (53%) say they “have a good idea” of their desired career path, compared to 48% of men. Overall, women in cybersecurity seem to have clearer expectations than men in how they envision their career tracks and the level of success they’ve attained.
More women than men (22% vs. 13%) cited discrimination as a challenge they’ve experienced during their career. In other areas, such as “unclear career path opportunities,” “lack of available cybersecurity positions” and “cost of cybersecurity certifications,” men and women respondents were never more than five percentage points apart.
When asked about success they have achieved in their careers, men scored higher than women in some crucial areas often directly attributed to satisfaction and professional achievement.
Fewer women surveyed than men report achievements such as becoming a go-to specialist for their expertise or being assigned a leadership position.
Women get paid significantly less than men, and the differences are especially pronounced in North America and Europe, where men on average earn about $16,500 more than women. The average salary for women cybersecurity workers in North America is just under $80,000, compared to an average of about $96,500 for men. In Europe, the average salary for women is about $40,500 and for men, $67,000. This salary discrepancy is reflective of society at large. It is estimated that women in the United States earn about 80 cents for every dollar that men are paid.
Women continue to make gains in the cybersecurity field, with many embracing the profession as a rewarding career path that they plan to stay on until retirement. While the overall trend is positive, some issues still need to be addressed. Women in the field face more discrimination and receive lower compensation than men. If these inequities are corrected, the cybersecurity profession may attract more women. This would benefit business, by boosting diversity and attracting different points of view, and for the industry, by helping to close the workforce gap of four million workers.