Since 1987, the month of March has been known as Women’s History Month, celebrating the historical achievements and contributions of women around the world. It is especially important during this time of reflection and celebration that we recognize the important role women have played in the growing security sector over the years.
It is no secret the cybersecurity industry has been historically dominated by men. The percentage of women in the field is only 24%, and while that percent is a slight increase from previous years, there’s still a lot of work to be done to attract, mentor, and retain more women in the industry.
The importance of inclusivity in the cybersecurity industry
As the attack landscape continues to evolve, it is imperative for organizations to keep cybersecurity top of mind. To do this effectively, there must be a diverse range of perspectives at the planning and strategy table. According to a study conducted by Harvard Kennedy School, teams with lower percentages of women have lower sales and lower profits than teams with a balanced gender mix. Creating more opportunities for women to have a seat at the table allows for greater business investments over time.
Creating an inclusive environment will also allow for a more positive company culture. For example, if there is one woman at a cybersecurity company full of men, she might not feel comfortable voicing her thoughts. However, a blended culture gives employees the opportunity to work with individuals with qualities both alike and different from their own, while also breaking down the current gender uniformity seen within the cyber industry.
All employees – no matter their gender – are often encouraged and more confident in their career path when they see someone that looks like them in more senior roles. This will create an environment that encourages employees at all levels to grow and learn from each other’s experiences.
Representation, recruitment, and retention
Women can face an uphill battle when entering into technical and security roles, which is highlighted by existing retention rates. Women in STEM are more likely to leave their position than women in non-STEM roles. In order to increase the representation of women in cyber, organizations should create an arsenal of resources that can be used to attract and retain current and future women in the field.
For example, companies can create initiatives that showcase their commitment to diversity and inclusion. Women are more likely to target organizations that are vocal about, and show, their commitment to equality. What is your organization doing to support its female employees?
Evaluate what it takes to create a strong inclusive culture with a mix of representation and skill sets so you can attract a more diverse candidate pool.
Mentor programs within the cyber community can also play a huge role in attracting and retaining more women. Mentors and mentees can meet regularly to discuss career and personal advice, or even just a new Netflix recommendation. Giving women a resource that allows them to learn from those who came before them will increase the number of women who are currently active in the field. I personally have a passion for mentoring and empowering the next generation of security professionals and have developed the following tips to help those who may be interested in entering the world of cybersecurity.
- Imposter syndrome is normal – You may second guess yourself, but don’t worry, everyone feels that way, not just women. It’s normal and talking about it helps. I always talk through any insecurities or challenges I’m facing with management and look at the opportunity as one to learn something new.
- When you’re interviewing, ask to speak to women on the team. Ask them about their role, and if they feel supported and challenged. It’s critical to vet the place you’re interviewing beforehand. Once you take the job, if it’s not working out, then give it some time and move on. Just be sure you put yourself and your growth first.
- Connect with women in the industry – it’s great if you get a woman to mentor you, but otherwise, network on LinkedIn, ask questions, and speak to other women in the industry.
- Don’t try to do it all. There’s an immense amount of pressure on women to not only do their job well, but also to keep things at home and with their children organized. If you have the ability, ask for help because we don’t have to do it all.
- Ask yourself: Are there roles at my company that I’d be interested in that are currently filled by women? If not, is my company open to it? If so, put yourself out there to meet members of other teams and immerse yourself in available training, events, and new opportunities.
The surge in cybercrime due to the pandemic highlights the need for cybersecurity professionals. It also creates a perfect opportunity to increase the representation of women in the industry as the need for talent is at an all-time high.
By 2025, I would love to see the percentage of women in the field to grow to at least 30%. In order to reach this goal, I encourage women, either those currently in the field or looking to enter, to utilize resources such as WiCyS (Women in Cybersecurity), CybHER, or local women in your community who hold positions in STEM fields. These resources are vital in learning more about opportunities in the cyber world that encourage women to grow.