What leads women to cybersecurity, and what makes them stay?

Many studies have shown that different perspectives result in a better understanding of problems and, ultimately, in better solutions for everybody. But even though it’s an industry where problem solving is of primary importance, cybersecurity still lags behind when it comes to diversity in the workforce.

women cybersecurity

For example, women still constitute only around 11 percent of the global information security workforce, even though they are definitely not a minority in the general populace.

Encouraging and supporting women to enter and keep working in the cybersecurity sector could be a good way to narrow the cybersecurity workforce gap.

What can women bring to the cybersecurity table?

Caroline Wong, Vice President of Security Strategy at app security company Cobalt, asked over 300 women currently employed in the cybersecurity sector about their experience, background, everyday work, and plans and wishes for the future, and compiled a report based on the results.

She was pleasantly surprised by the seniority and diversity of the women who responded to the survey.

“The topic of women in cybersecurity has received more press in the past few years than ever before, and I think it’s possible for readers to assume that women working in this field is something new – it’s not,” she told Help Net Security.

37% of respondents (of 311 in total) have been working in the field for 10 or more years. 54% of respondents have been working in the field for more than 5 years.

“This study is about women because I happen to be a woman, and it’s a story that I know,” Wong noted.

“Recent press coverage on the topic has a tendency to focus on the negative – underrepresentation, unfair pay, and challenges in the workplace. These aspects are true, however I know there’s a story that’s just as true, and that’s how many women in the field are thriving. I personally know so many women – and now I have the data to back it up – that love their jobs, feel deeply satisfied by the work they’re doing, and are tremendously successful.”

She also pointed out that the long term solution to the talent shortage is to increase the pipeline. “I hope that this study can contribute to the conversation in a way that inspires girls and young women to consider a career in cybersecurity.”

Diversity as a road to success

“A team that integrates diversity of all kinds – disciplines, genders, backgrounds, ethnicities, etc. – ensures fresh perspectives, prompting innovation and creativity,” says Andrea Little Limbago, Principal Social Scientist at Endgame and one of the survey respondents.

With that in mind, another interesting survey finding is that fewer than 50% of respondents entered the field via IT or Computer Science. The respondents are diverse in their backgrounds, coming from Compliance, Psychology, Internal Audit, Entrepreneurship/Sales, etc.:

women cybersecurity

So it seems that it’s high time for employers to try out new recruitment channels for filling in cybersecurity posts. It is also critical that hiring managers be very engaged in the hiring process and thoughtful about exactly what types of skills are needed for each particular role.

Managers of diverse teams don’t focus their search in only the most obvious places – they take the time to discover and leverage alternative pipelines, and they hire the best people they can find.

Wong’s own experiences and strengths match much of those shared by the survey respondents: she did not initially plant to work in the cybersecurity field, but enjoys practical problem solving and “getting things done”.

“I’ve had my fair share of the negative experiences that you hear about. Along the way, I’ve also had great mentors helping me to see what matters and what doesn’t. These days, my first priority when it comes to work is surrounding myself with people that I like and respect, and who like and respect me. Second priority for me is the ability to make a big impact,” she explained.

“My advice for anyone in the field is the same, no matter your biological equipment or gender identity: start by making sure you really understand the problem and then go solve it, learn everything you can, stay curious and ask questions, don’t stay in a job that doesn’t make you happy, and take care of yourself.”