There’s never been a better time to be a woman in cybersecurity than now. Granted, there are many gains to be made still, but recent research about progress already made by women in the field is very encouraging.
Although the industry is dominated by men, so many computing pioneers, such as the people who programmed the first digital computers were women. Ada Lovelace (1815–1852) is credited with being the world's first computer programmer. She detailed applications for the Analytical Engine that relate to how computers are used today. Likewise, luminaries such as Grace Hopper, Katherine Johnson, Margaret Hamilton, Adele Goldberg, Stephanie “Steve” Shirley, Megan Smith have all made their mark on the IT industry.
Something changed in the 1980s, resulting in a staffing shift in the IT department. The ‘computer girls’ were replaced by male-dominated departments of computer enthusiasts who evolved into cybersecurity experts of today. It is time for women to take back their power with confidence.
Findings from the (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Study 2018 show that women are succeeding in parlaying their education and professional certifications into positions of leadership in the profession. This is no small feat, considering female cybersecurity workers traditionally have comprised a very small portion of the overall cybersecurity workforce.
The survey found that female cybersecurity workers as a group are more educated than their male counterparts; 28% of women hold a cybersecurity or related graduate degree while the number of men with equivalent education is 20%. Higher levels of education are opening paths for women into leadership roles. Higher percentages of women have CTO jobs (7% of women vs. 2% of men), vice president of IT (9% vs. 5%), IT director (18% vs. 14%) and C-level executive (21% vs. 19%).
Currently, cybersecurity female professionals account for 24% of the overall workforce, compared to 11% in 2016, the last time (ISC)² polled for gender breakdown. Part of the difference owes to a change in research methodology but, nevertheless, it shows an upward trend for women.
Why Does It Matter?
Attracting more women to the cybersecurity profession is important for several reasons. It’s always a positive development whenever a profession dominated by one gender becomes more balanced. It creates teams with more diversity, creativity and innovation.
Just as any other occupation, diversity has positive effects; it promotes, inclusive leadership, and new ways of thinking and problem solving. In the dynamic field of cybersecurity, which has to work incessantly to address new and evolving threats, innovation and creative thinking are valuable assets.
And let’s face it, cybersecurity needs women desperately. Currently, there is a worldwide cybersecurity skills gap of nearly 3 million. The cybersecurity profession stands no chance of addressing that gap without pulling qualified and vibrant, eager-to-learn female professionals. The same goes for people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The more diverse the field becomes, the more effective and successful it will be.
While gains made by cybersecurity professional are certainly noteworthy, we shouldn’t forget that a lot more work needs to be done. The industry, in partnership with academia and vocational institutions, needs to intensify efforts to attract women to the field. This should start early with STEM programs in schools that promote participation from girls as strongly as boys.
Women in cybersecurity also must help themselves by setting career goals and communicating them to their superiors, being assertive in vying for new opportunities, and continuing to educate themselves in the field by earning advanced degrees and certifications.
We need to build on the gains we’ve already made to get an equal seat at the table and make the cybersecurity field better and more inclusive. Cybersecurity is about understanding people. The more professionals we have who understand this, the closer we get to keeping the world a safe a secure cyber place. And no time is better than now.