As the cybersecurity industry continues to struggle to meet a workforce gap – an estimated 3.5 million jobs are expected to remain unfilled by 2021 – it’s clear that encouraging women and those from diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in the field will be a key factor in staying ahead of the threat landscape. Changes at the RSA conference, scheduled for early March in San Francisco, along with a handful of large companies stepping up to the plate with training and recruitment efforts, show that the industry may finally be getting serious about addressing the issue.
While diversity in general is an issue in tech, women are particularly underrepresented. They hold about 26 percent of tech jobs according to a research report by The American Association of University Women (AAUW), and in cybersecurity specifically that drops to just 11 percent of roles globally being held by women according to the (ISC)2 2017 Global Information Security Workforce: Women in Cyber Security study.
[Interested in the issue of women in cyber? Register for the free Threatpost webinar, “The Future is Female: Solving the Workforce Challenge,” to learn about why recruiting women is critical to the future of the industry. It takes place Dec. 12 at 2 p.m. ET.]
Aiming to create role models for others considering a career in infosecurity, some of the women that do work in cyber were recently thrust into the spotlight with Forbes’ U.S. list of the 50 Top Women in Technology.
The honorees come from a wide range of sectors, including enterprise and consumer technology, gaming, artificial intelligence, aerospace and biotech, among others. Among them are four cybersecurity leaders: Celeste Fralick, chief data scientist at McAfee; Laura Mather, cofounder at Silver Tail Systems; Katie Moussouris, CEO and founder at Luta Security; and Tal Rabin, head of the Cryptography Research Group for the Thomas J. Watson Research Center at IBM.
Also, RSAC, after facing enormous criticism for women representing just 20 percent of the speaker lineup at its last outing and 25 percent of keynotes), in November announced that it is shying away from all-male panels and would be encouraging companies to diversify their representatives to the conference, among other changes.
Against this backdrop of an increased focus on women already working in the field, a range of organizations are rolling out efforts to attract new women and girls to the mix.
For instance, IBM and Florida International University recently did their part by inviting more than 200 girls from seven different schools across Miami-Dade for “IBMCyberDay4Girls,” a one-day conference that educates young women in fifth grade up to eleventh grade about cybersecurity — from how to protect yourself on social media to what careers are available in cybersecurity.
“We have a huge shortage of cybersecurity professionals, and this is a very good way for them to start getting interested. They see how different aspects of cybersecurity affect their personal lives and their families,” said Helvetiella Longoria, CISO at FIU. “We hope to continue to encourage and support female students to pursue interests in cybersecurity. Through these programs and our continued partnership with IBM, we hope to provide a voice in guiding and fostering them in this direction.”
The Cisco Women in Cybersecurity mentoring program meanwhile reaches out to girls in middle school, high school and college and runs recruitment programs for jobs at the networking giant. The program also connects students externally with other organizations.
And Apple said in late November that it would launch a new program designed to address the scarcity of women in tech executive and computer programming jobs. Beginning in January, female entrepreneurs and programmers will attend two-week tutorial sessions at the company’s Cupertino headquarters; these will run every three months.
These and other industry efforts are important in dispelling the stereotypes that exist around cyber and tech jobs – a key factor in the lack of diversity.
“One myth [about cybersecurity] is that to work in it, you have to be hacker or a coder and that it’s just for boys. The other is that everybody thinks that you have to have a computer science degree, and that’s just not true. We need people with all sorts of skills,” said IBM’s academic outreach leader, Heather Ricciuto.
(Want to know more about the key role of women in cyber? Register for the free Threatpost webinar, “The Future is Female: Solving the Workforce Challenge,” to learn about why recruiting women is critical to the future of the industry. It takes place Dec. 12 at 2 p.m. ET.)