The first computer programmer was a woman – Ada Lovelace. Ida Rhodes designed the first computers to run the U.S. Census and Social Security systems. Margaret Hamilton wrote software that got Apollo 11 on the moon. Where are the women in cybersecurity?
Despite the pivotal role these founding mothers played in the technology industry, the sector is still struggling with attracting and retaining women in cybersecurity careers. What lies behind this gender gap and how can the cybersecurity industry rectify the issue?
Cybersecurity Dominated by Men
While the situation in the technology industry overall has improved marginally in recent years, with women in cybersecurity now making up 26 percent of the industry’s workforce, cybersecurity, and the tech sector, is still a man’s world.
The most recent Global Information Security Workforce Study by (ISC)2 found that women in the cybersecurity profession represent only 10 percent of the workforce.
Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, says the lack of women in cybersecurity is very troubling: “Not only do women risk missing out on tomorrow’s next great job opportunities, they also risk a more worrying decline in societal influence. As tech remakes the world, women will miss the chance to affect the massive economic and social changes this fourth industrial revolution will bring.”
She believes there are a number of reasons for the gender gap in the tech industry, from the lack of work-life balance to little encouragement of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education for young girls.
According to The Franklin Foundation for Innovation, a not-for-profit solutions-based organization working to solve key issues in education, explanations could also include: “a lack of interest in school age children, the ‘leaky pipeline’ excuse, general stereotypes, amongst others.”
“We believe the only reason why the gap exists is because society and our schools have yet to support a different model. Girls are not encouraged to become programmers, they’re told to become housewives… In order for the gender gap to disappear, society has to change its ideas on women’s true place in our American society – which is in lock-step with men.”
Want More Women in Cybersecurity? You Need Cultural Change
Discrimination, whether overt or something subtler, is a well-documented problem for the tech industry.
On one hand there is structural discrimination, the tendency to employ people like ourselves, which means that white males are more likely to employ other white males. On the other, there’s the insulting, condescending or backhanded ‘compliments’ and comments that women in tech regularly have to put up with, such as those listed by blogger Cate Burlington.
Burlington’s experiences are just the tip of the iceberg. The Elephant in the Valley survey, commissioned in the wake of the Ellen Pao discrimination case, found that 60 percent of women working in Silicon Valley had been sexually harassed.
Not only do fewer women begin STEM education – 82 percent of computer science, engineering and physics degrees are awarded to men at American universities – but they also drop out of STEM industries at a higher rate than men.
According to the National Center for Women and Information Technology’s (NCWIT) Women in Tech: The Facts, 56 percent of women with a technical education leave the workplace at the ‘mid-level’ point. This is double the rate for men and is also the point where it is the most costly for the company. These women cite dissatisfaction with their tech career prospects due to unsupportive work environments, sacrifices in their personal lives that outweigh personal gains, and a lack of inspiring role models.
Despite these cultural challenges, more women are being encouraged to join the tech and cybersecurity sectors because their skills are vital to the growth and success of these industries.
Burgeoning Cybersecurity Industry a Major Opportunity
There’s a major labor shortage in cybersecurity and, according to Forbes Magazine’s Steve Morgan, a cybersecurity career offers women in cybersecurity a major opportunity. “The small representation of women in cyber is a big opportunity for them to enter a field with a severe labor shortage… More than 209,000 cyber security jobs in the U.S. are unfilled, and postings are up 74 percent over the past five years, according to a 2015 analysis of numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics by Peninsula Press.”
This year there are one million cyber security jobs available across the globe and Symantec CEO, Michael Brown, predicts that worldwide demand for cyber security professionals will rise to six million worldwide with a shortfall of 1.5 million.
Clearly, there’s a lot of opportunity for women to be part of the rapidly growing cyber security market – touted to more than double from $75 billion in 2015 to $170 billion by 2020.
Female professionals who are interested in capitalizing on this opportunity should consider furthering their education with a Cyber Security Masters degree. There’s a range of degrees and certifications to choose from so choose the one that best fits your desired career path, whether that’s a degree that focuses more on technical expertise or one that’s more policy driven. By investing in further cybersecurity education, women can not only improve their own career prospects, but the industry as a whole.
Interested in growing your career in cybersecurity, check out:
Diversity Drives Creativity
One result of embracing gender diversity in the workplace, according to Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of Lean In, is that companies and teams perform better and they’re more innovative, which drives revenue and increases profits.
According to NCWIT’s Women in Tech: The Facts report: “A study of more than 100 teams at 21 companies found that teams with equal numbers of women and men were more likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge and fulfill tasks than teams of any other composition.”
Apple’s massive Health app fail where the app tracked steps, weight, heart rate, blood glucose and a host of other metrics, but forgot to track reproductive health or menstrual cycles – effectively ignoring a key need for 50 percent of the U.S. population – demonstrated the importance of gender-diverse teams. Thankfully, Apple rectified this issue and added reproductive health tracking to the app in 2015.
Products developed by all-male or all-female teams are unlikely to be as good as those developed by gender-diverse teams. Put another way, diversity drives creativity.
Just as product development needs diversity, so does cyber security. Deidre Diamond, founder of #brainbabe, is working to develop more opportunities for hiring and retaining women in the cybersecurity sector.
“Cyber security is a really sophisticated business, and women love to be challenged. Cyber security careers are the cutting edge. It’s the heart of the economy, of national security, of social behaviors. It’s a brain game. On top of that, these are really high-paying jobs that bring stability.”
“Communication skills and social skills are needed to retain people, and we need leaders. We need people who want to build teams, work in teams and support teams. I’d love to see more people create a culture where people are laughing and smiling and yet are highly productive. We need people who will work to create a positive environment.”
Deidre and other women throughout the cyber security industry are working hard to develop this positive environment and build a new, gender-diverse future for the sector. So what role will you play in this revolution? Capitalize on this opportunity and explore your options today. Find cyber security jobs in your area.