Why aren’t more women in cybersecurity, and how can we fix it?
For decades, we have heard the need to encourage more women to adopt IT and cybersecurity careers to help close the growing demand for skilled professionals. Much work has been done, but the progress has been slower than anticipated.
The STEM acronym (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is often cited as a measure of female underrepresentation in fields like IT and engineering.
Women make up 28% of the tech/STEM workforce in the U.S.
The numbers of those majoring in most STEM fields in college favor men, with the gender gap especially high in computer science and engineering.
Even if high school girls are enticed into STEM programs, they are half as likely to complete college STEM degrees as men, according to the National Science Foundation's Science and Engineering Indicators.
Figures from the American Association of University Women show that women comprise 25% of the computer and mathematical occupations workforce, with 19% of computer science majors being women. Shockingly, only 38% of women who major in computers work in the field.
Should you pay the ransom?
Should you pay the ransom?
Further discouraging women in cybersecurity statistics include: Only 20% of U.S. tech students are female, and 50% of women who break into tech leave the industry before age 35, according to Accenture. Yet Boston Consulting Group predicts that 90% of the most attractive jobs in the coming years will reside in tech.
Are we at a turning point for women in cybersecurity?
Paula Bratcher Ratliff is deeply engaged in changing those numbers. She is the owner and president of Women Impact Tech, an organization committed to bringing women and diverse professionals into cybersecurity.
“There wasn’t a big population of women in tech or cybersecurity when I entered the field, and there is still not today,” said Ratliff on the Cyber Work Podcast. “But you now see women with nursing, biology or teaching degrees transferring these very different backgrounds and skills into cybersecurity and being very brilliantly successful.”
She believes we are at a turning point in the number of women in cybersecurity. She cited Cybersecurity Ventures, which anticipates a 30% growth in cyber jobs by 2025 and a further 35% growth by 2031. She expects many more women to take advantage of these opportunities.
“Women typically have a lot of the core competencies around tenacity, problem-solving and detail orientation that align well with cybersecurity,” said Ratliff. “They’re intrigued by being detective-like and understanding the different ways that people think. Attention to detail is another strength that favors women in cybersecurity.”
Bias in cybersecurity hiring
Bias in hiring, she said, has been a problem for years. However, ongoing diversity initiatives are making progress on that front.
“The best teams in companies are diverse and bring different ideas,” said Ratliff. “In the most successful tech departments where innovation is king, they manage to combine diverse thinking and diverse talent.”
Bringing in more women and adding diversity to the cybersecurity team can change the defensive approach from reactive to proactive.
Hiring more women is one side of the coin. But retention efforts must be stepped up, too. Whether it's due to internal bias, deciding to start a family or other reasons, women have a high attrition rate in tech fields.
“Successful women are leaving tech, and part of it is because they don’t have the role models that other industries or other groups have of women in leadership that they can emulate,” said Ratliff. “We need to build stronger retention programs.”
The good news, she added, is that cybersecurity, more than other tech roles, tends to be more open to including more women.
Encouraging more women in cybersecurity
To spur more women into this industry, Women Impact Tech holds live events across the country. Educational tracks include developing tech skills, tech innovation, leadership, career progression and cybersecurity, one of the hottest categories.
“As women in the industry, we have a chance to reach down to lift women up,” said Ratliff. “We're at a tipping point where women are elevating in tech and have the opportunity to disproportionately change the statistics of women advancing in tech.”
She highlighted a speaker at one of her organization’s recent events, the CEO of Tencent.
“She’s showing women that you can get to the top in our industry,” said Ratliff. “Every step along her leadership journey, she pulled other women along to help drive her vision of what she could do in the gaming industry to make an impact.”
That CEO voiced frustration that 50% of the gamers are women, but less than 10% are developers. She’s trying to change that and believes that the more she can shift, the more empowering her games will be for the women who play them.
Her organization’s events provide plenty of networking opportunities. Attendee badges include ribbons to show skills and areas of interest. The cyber badge is bright and stands out. This enables attendees to find and network with other women working in or interested in cybersecurity.
Sponsors at these events are encouraged to showcase their efforts to promote women in technology. Those sponsors and other partners post available positions on job boards at the show. About 20% of the positions on the job board are in the cyber sector. Recruiters and people passionate about learning new skills and translating their existing skills into rewarding tech careers are also present and on the prowl for suitable candidates.
ChatGPT training built for everyone
ChatGPT training built for everyone
Beyond live events, Women Impact Tech provides assistance in job placement, contract staffing and talent solutions. Membership in the organization is available, which is especially valuable in I.T. organizations that currently don't have enough women in IT to start their own internal group.
“We offer a membership platform for corporations and individual members so that they can have access to the network of female technologists around the country in real-time, all our thought leadership material, recordings from our live events and monthly live webinars,” said Ratliff.
“You can’t underestimate the power of your network. I tell people every single day that a chance conversation with someone on our platforms or at our conferences can change your career trajectory.”
For more on this topic, listen to the full episode of the Cyber Work Podcast with Paula Bratcher Ratliff.