The tech industry’s struggle with gender diversity is well-known, but the percentage of women in tech jobs — although just 25 percent — still dwarfs that of women in cybersecurity.
Here’s a jarring statistic: There are 1 million unfilled jobs in cybersecurity, and that number is expected to rise to 6 million by 2019.
Here’s an even more shocking statistic: Only 11 percent of cybersecurity professionals are women.
What Can Chip Away at Inequality in Cybersecurity?
There’s no silver bullet solution, but women can get a leg up on the competition through a skill set that’s often ignored: soft skills.
Cybersecurity is no longer a back-office function; it’s at the forefront of organizations, impacting businesses’ bottom lines. As a result, professionals need skills including communication, collaboration and persuasion to excel.
The problem is, many people in information security lack communication and other soft skills, and this gives professionals — especially women — with these abilities unique opportunities.
Find out more about how soft skills can help anyone advance in cybersecurity by checking out Deidre Diamond’s video on the topic, here and above.
The Importance of Women in Cybersecurity
Diversity in any business has benefits. According to a McKinsey study, companies with gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to financially outperform companies that lack diversity. The study suggests a correlation between gender diversity and financial performance and indicates that companies committed to diversity are likely to be more successful because they are “better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction and decision-making.”
Another McKinsey report says improving gender equality would add $12 trillion to the global GDP by 2025. Researchers determined this number by analyzing a scenario in which all countries in a region matched the progress toward gender parity of their fastest-improving neighbor country.
In cybersecurity, diversity helps fuel innovation and creativity, as different perspectives make problem-solving more effective, says Jane Frankland, pictured above. She is the founder and managing director of Cyber Security Capital, a cybersecurity consulting firm and Diversity Champion of the Year at the 2017 Beecher Madden cybersecurity awards.
“I found that women and men think differently, and that’s a good thing, particularly when we look at risk, because men and women see risk in a very different way. If you have uniformity of thinking, you’re just going to end up with the same type of answers,” Frankland says.
Frankland further specifies that some of the barriers women face in breaking into cybersecurity include a male-dominated culture that’s traditionally unwelcoming to women, lack of mentoring and development in the field, and job qualifications which keep women from applying for positions that would allow them to grow beyond their current skill set. But having soft skills can help.
Soft Skills Can Give Women an Advantage
According to a McKinsey report, 40 percent of employers said a lack of soft skills is the main reason they have difficulty filling entry-level vacancies. The issue is also prevalent in cybersecurity — the much-talked-about skills gap isn’t just technical.
“I absolutely see technical candidates come across our agency on a regular basis without soft skills, and the hardest part is they don’t know they don’t have them,” says Deidre Diamond, founder and CEO of national cybersecurity staffing company Cyber Security Network (CyberSN) and founder of the not-for-profit, thought-leadership platform #brainbabe. “One must be able to communicate, problem-solve and work in teams. No matter how technical somebody is, if they can’t communicate in a team atmosphere, they won’t be successful long-term.”
Diamond also suggests that interviewers are often willing to overlook a weakness in the technical skills and experience they thought they wanted when they really connect with the candidate; it’s another reason why a mastery of soft skills is so important for women in the industry.
When considering the common barriers for women in cybersecurity — such as job qualifications and lack of development — soft skills can help them navigate those challenges. Women can emphasize their problem-solving and collaboration abilities to impress hiring managers and use communication skills to campaign for mentorship and development in the sector.
For women looking to acquire the necessary technical skills through an advanced degree, it’s important to find a program that includes soft skills. “The key to success today in evaluating an educational program is how much soft skills training they are offering,” Diamond emphasizes.