Diversification is important in all work sectors but more so in the realm of cybersecurity where a different perspective can be key to devising innovative ways to counteract malicious attacks on systems. Unfortunately, the IT sector still lacks in input from women and minorities that comprise just a small percentage of the workforce. The problem, actually, does not just involve the computer sector but seems to be affecting all Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines.

According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, in 2015 only 25% of the computing workforce was women: only 5% Asian, 3% African-American, and 1% Hispanic women. Numbers are even worst when considering positions as information security analyst; according to a survey conducted by the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in fact, only 19.7 percent of information security analysts are women, 3 percent are Black/African-Americans, 3.4 percent are Asian-Americans and 5.2 percent Hispanic/Latinos.

In addition, according to the BLS, women earn 81.2% of men’s salary when employed in computer and mathematical positions. A Glassdoor’s research shows that the “Adjusted” Gender Pay Gap in Information Technology is 5.9%, but it reaches 28.3% when considering computer programmer jobs. There are also problems when looking into promotion potentials. As noted at Women For Hire, an online job board that helps employers connect with professional women in all fields, “of 1,613 women polled by [the women’s career site] Fairygodboss, 79 percent said men and women don’t get an equal shot at promotions, compared to 63 percent who cited pay inequities.”

The stats, containing an analysis of opportunities and barriers, derived from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey (CPS) report of women still underrepresented among highest earners. “One particularly interesting finding of this study is that women who hold the CISSP cert earn significantly less than their male counterparts. The average salary for a female CISSP falls between $73,627 and $111,638, while the average male salary is between $78,788 and $119, 184,” mentions InfoSec Institute in an article on average CISSP Salaries in 2016.

Even though there are many efforts underway to resolve the shortage of women and minorities in IT and InfoSec, much more can be done to understand and address the causes as well as plan for a gap-free future.

Barriers to Equality and Causes of Gender Gaps in the Workplace

There is compelling evidence that women and minorities (specifically African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics or Latino workers) are underrepresented within many STEM disciplines, especially in computer science. In 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that men who are employed in STEM occupations are found to be about twice the rate of women with the same qualifications; the employment of women in the computer field has actually declined since the 1990s.” Also, “Blacks and Hispanics have been consistently underrepresented in STEM employment. In 2011, 11 percent of the workforce was Black, while 6 percent of STEM workers were Black (up from 2 percent in 1970).”

Research findings often point to environmental and social barriers — including stereotypes, gender bias — as explanations for the lack of diversity in the workplace. For example, STEM jobs are traditionally seen as more men-friendly and employers have, sometimes even unconsciously, perpetuated the problem by gravitating towards candidates of a certain gender or ethnicity to fill their technical positions. Although this is an important issue to address, there are also other causes that can be analyzed and tackled. For one, the traditional gap in STEM degree enrollments; for example, it would be important to work on the number of women starting and completing technical degrees that are essential in securing many information systems vacancies.

Bonnie Marcus, Forbes Contributor, stated in an article, “The Lack Of Diversity In Tech Is A Cultural Issue,” that “the gender gap in tech is primarily a pipeline issue; in other words, there are simply not enough girls studying math and science.” Overcoming the barriers in the way of women when applying for tech roles requires firms to encourage more young women who are looking for a career in the IT industry to discover the many possibilities to foster interest, opportunity, and growth in the future. Programs should gear towards introducing STEM subjects early in a student development while, at the same time, presenting examples and role models in STEM professions coming from all walks of life, any gender and ethnicity. Role models, more than any other incentive, can show younger women and minorities see those fields equal to those they have traditionally chosen later in their life.

Another interesting perspective is given by a ComputerWeekly article that reports the findings of a “Women in Technology” survey based on the answers of 512 UK technology professionals (199 women and 313 men). According to the study, 86% of the female technology experts would be happy to recommend their career to another female employee, but 75% mentioned that one of the main problems is the fact that these careers are generally not attractive to women because of the fear of being isolated in a field normally dominated by men. This is actually not a valid fear because, as Sheila Flavell, chief operating officer at the FDM Group and the “Leader of the year” winner at the Cisco everywoman in Technology Awards, said: “As a woman in IT, I understand that entering such a male-dominated environment can be daunting, but when I started it soon became clear that there is a supportive network for women in the industry that other sectors don’t offer.” The survey also highlighted women’s fear of having to work harder than their male counterparts to succeed; less importance was given to factors like skills, education, working hours and glass ceiling.

The White House, as part of the President’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign, has worked to motivate and inspire students — including girls and underrepresented minorities — to excel in STEM subjects. Gender inequality issues are at the top of the agenda. Accordingly, President Obama has announced several new and innovative partnerships involving major companies, universities, foundations, non-profit organizations and government agencies designed to attract, develop, reward and retain outstanding educators in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Though this will help speed progress, it is not the only solution, as “cultural factors, unconscious bias, and unsupportive environments all need to be addressed in a holistic journey to equality.”

Benefits of Diversity and Solutions

Why is it so important to increase the numbers of women and minorities in the IT field? First of all, as Monique Morrow, Distinguished Consulting Engineer, and Asia-Pacific Service Provider Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Cisco Systems, Inc. mentioned in her article, “Why a Career in Technology Matters for Women,” diversity enhances a workforce by bringing in different perspective, experiences, backgrounds and ultimately ideas. She highlights the increasingly important role women are playing in every aspect of the IT sector and believes a career in technology that is rewarding and free of the barrier can be as attractive to women as any other career. Morrow who has been recognized amongst the Top Ten Influential IT Women in Europe is a role model who is working to restore the gender balance. She is not only active in the field but has spent time mentoring up-and-coming professionals.

The need for role models is at the center of a series of initiatives that showcase examples of great professionals in the field, for example, the series of talks that took place at the annual Computer Weekly women in IT event showcasing some of the great women in the tech sector. Two conferences on “Developing the Future for Women in Tech” that take action on gender diversity issues to make waves in the technology sector are:

Such symposiums connect women working in this sector to realize what they can achieve and the best way to do it, say the event organizers.

Many are also the initiatives to resolve the education gap. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the proportion of women earning undergraduate degrees in computer science fell from 37 percent in 1984 to just 18 percent in 2014. Highlighting that women, like men, can also be at the forefront of this industry plagued by a shortage of skilled professionals, is the Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) initiative that expects to raise awareness about the importance of closing the gap with resources and activities for security professionals. Of importance is a collaborative project undertaken by tech schools to recruit, retain and advance women in cyber security with the support of a National Science Foundation grant. Also offering scholarships is the (ISC)2 Foundation; specifically, they offer computer science (CS) scholarships to offer women the opportunity to continue their IA and cyber security studies.

Another group that has increased awareness about the lack of diversity in the field is the International Consortium of Minority Cyber Professionals (ICMCP) that is “working to bridge the gap in the cyber security sector by providing scholarship opportunities, technical training programs, innovative outreach, mentoring and networking programs targeting women and minority cyber security professionals worldwide and by promoting academic and technical excellence in the industry.” In March, ICMCP held its first National Conference of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals event addressing the cross-industry cyber security skills shortage and the need for more women and minorities in computer science. The ICMCP Cybersecurity Scholarship Program and Educational Funding Programs recognizes the nation’s highest achieving minority students.

Despite the wide range of STEM scholarship opportunities for women, they still remain significantly underrepresented in the field, tells the Association for Women in Computing (AWC) that is dedicated to the advancement of women in technology careers. Much work needs to be done so that industries and companies address any possible discrimination or bias within their hiring processes. By recognizing the value of diversity for the growth of the company, managements need to make sure the business environment they foster is free from any barriers and welcomes newcomers regardless of their ethnical or gender identity. The United States barely made the Top 25 Countries in Equality for Women with a ranking of #20; the U.S. being one of the most diverse nations regarding culture needs to come up with an action plan for equality, diversity, and inclusion across the board, in practice, with ad-hoc policies. This culture transformation is imperative and can benefit companies and economy immensely by bringing together the best possible talents to achieve business success. Diversity is key to fostering a strong and inclusive workforce in today’s hyper-competitive digital marketplace to have an absolute, equal chance.

Many major corporations are already recognizing and making a conscious effort; Cisco, a worldwide leader in IT, has created a multigenerational and multicultural community where employees benefit from diversity policies. The company is an equal opportunity employer committed to maintaining balance in gender and geographical representation and fight inequality so to be able to tap into a wider talent pool. Cisco is applying inclusion as part of its entire culture, not just in their hiring processes, but also throughout all other areas of HR. Its initiatives are striving to close both the women and minority gaps when selecting external job candidates and also by aligning the internal staff accordingly when filling positions from within the company.

Another high-tech firm that has made strides towards diversity is the renowned chip maker Intel, Silicon Valley, which has increased hiring of minorities and women. (See the Intel Diversity Progress Report). The report highlights How Intel is Addressing Diversity to its advantage. The company has “devoted to building an inclusive environment that allows diversity to thrive,” says Aicha Evans, Corporate Vice President, Intel, with investment plans (as per Intel’s Diversity in Technology Initiative that has committed $300M to support this goal and accelerate diversity and inclusion) to help build up the pipeline of minorities in tech and support more hiring and retention of those groups.

Cisco and Intel are only two of the high-tech firms among others with goals to make the company more diverse. Today, both tech firms make an effort to attract, retain and promote women and minorities to shape the future of technology and unlock a new era of innovation. Other tech companies that have released their diversity numbers to the public and are taking actionable steps as well to be more diverse regarding both gender and ethnicity are Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Pandora, Pinterest, eBay, and HP.

Ethical Hacking Training – Resources (InfoSec)

To bridge this gender gap, Hewlett-Packard, for example, took a more active role in sponsoring women who have a strong interest in the field of InfoSec by granting $250,000 to the Scholarship for Women Studying Information Security (SWSIS) program to support women studying the theory and practice of cybersecurity. According to scholarshipsonline.org, more than 60 accredited universities are offering the HP program. The SWSIS was established in 2014 by a joint effort between HP, the Applied Computer Security Associates (ACSA) and the Computer Research Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W). Today, it has helped to close the skills gap by partnering with academic institutions worldwide, said Art Gilliland, senior vice president and general manager, Enterprise Security Products, HP. “With the new scholarship program for women in information security, as well as the expansion of HP’s academic program, HP will support security career growth and introduce new talent to the field,” he conveyed. Occasionally, HP advertises for specific internship opportunities, which are designed to complement women’s development-oriented studies with practical experience in various aspects of computer technology.

Another company that is working to advance STEM education for women is the multinational computer technology company Dell through its partnership with Girlstart. “According to Dell, 80 percent of the girls involved in Girlstart’s Project IT Girls program go on to a four-year university, and 80 percent pursue STEM majors.” Programs like Girlstart with access to technology and education help to develop future talent and increase diversity in the workforce. Today, Girlstart is engaging girls interested in STEM-related careers early in creating even more opportunities for future female leaders in the field.

Conclusion

According to Labor Department statistics, women made a slight gain in cyber security jobs from 2014 to 2015, up from 18.1 percent to 19.7 percent of the InfoSec Analyst workforce. This trend is also confirmed by a report released earlier this month by research firm Frost & Sullivan. Some fields are finally showing some real progress; the governance, risk and compliance (GRC) field for example, where Angela Messer, executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, believes women have easier access thanks to their often more diverse backgrounds, and this is a benefit in GRC. However, this growth is not sufficient when compared to the total growth of the industry. Also, employment of minorities is declining according to Zach Noble of FCW magazine.

The demographics of the cybersecurity workforce reflect the imbalance found in other scientific and technical fields. Steps forward in the right direction have indeed been made with the increased involvement of minorities and women in high-tech careers to fill the critical shortages of skilled IT security personnel; many more companies are looking for the right people regardless of their gender and ethnicity. Companies are concentrating on fostering collaborative team environments so as to drive innovation; this approach requires diversity. As ComputerScienceMajor.org mentions, “Additionally, companies with a homogeneous workforce face a higher risk of inadequately accommodating a consumer base which steadily grows more diverse by the year. Companies are also better able to solve the technological issues and problems unique to various populations comprised of racially and ethnically diverse people. The corporations that diversify their staff and employees gain an acute advantage in the business world.”

It is time to increase diversity in the workplace. Moreover, it is time to transform the dynamics of the industry gender gap and solve the talent shortage of skilled personnel by encouraging more women and minorities to study in the field. Doing so will foster a diverse community of computer professionals that will positively change the face of the IT and InfoSec industry. Changing a hiring culture based on stereotype, giving more visibility to women and minority role models as well as increasing the appeal of STEM subject in college are also part of the solution. In 2013, of the 29,555 U.S. students who took the College Board’s Advanced Placement Computer Science 13,711 were white males; 2,348 were white females, 1,090 black students, 2,408 Hispanics, 8,475 Asians, 5,485 total females. Working on this disproportion would be a great first step towards a true equilibrium in the workforce.

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