The field of cybersecurity offers a unique blend of excitement and fulfilment, attracting individuals with a passion for keeping the “bad guys” out of critical systems and data. However, there is a striking gender imbalance in the industry, with women making up only 24% of the cybersecurity workforce, as reported by (ISC)². To bridge this gap and encourage more women to pursue careers in cybersecurity, several key steps can be taken.
Early Exposure and Education: The journey towards a more diverse cybersecurity workforce starts at an early age. Encouraging girls to explore STEM fields, including computer science, through camps, classes, and competitions lays a strong foundation. Organizations like Rosie Riveters, Girls Who Code and Boolean Girl offer exhilarating experiences in computer science, fostering interest from a young age. In college, cybersecurity can be integrated into various majors, such as business, marketing, math, data science, engineering, and computer science. Actively recruiting women from organizations like WiCys or WomenTech Network can help in expanding the talent pool.
Diversify Recruitment Sources: As women continue to be underrepresented in cybersecurity engineering roles, it becomes essential to explore alternative sources to build a more inclusive team. Looking beyond traditional technical backgrounds, such as hiring former bartenders, makeup artists turned white-hat hackers, or ex-NSA analysts, opens up new avenues to fill cybersecurity roles. Companies can provide training and support to individuals with a desire to learn, regardless of their previous careers. Events like WomenHack, which organizes women-only networking events for technical candidates, offer specialized recruiting opportunities.
Ongoing Training and Skill Development: Cybersecurity is a rapidly evolving field, necessitating continuous learning and skill updates. Providing opportunities for women to stay current is crucial in keeping them engaged. Initiatives like SANS Women’s Cyber Security Academy and the Ladies Hacking Society, which shares learning opportunities regularly, can empower women to remain up-to-date in their knowledge and expertise.
Mentorship and Mentorship: Building a strong support system through mentorship is invaluable in cybersecurity careers. Having mentors who invest time and effort in guiding and supporting women’s growth is essential. Like dating, the process of finding the right mentor may require iterations, but the rewards are immense. In turn, women are encouraged to pay it forward by sharing their skills and knowledge with others, helping them grow in their careers.
Fun and Skill Sharpening: Cybersecurity is not just about work; it can also be fun. Participating in hackathons, capturing the flag competitions, and attending industry gaming conferences like DEFCON enriches personal networks, enhances hacking skills, and improves programming expertise.
Joining Women-Centric Groups: Internal and external women’s groups within companies create spaces for sharing ideas, learning new skills, and fostering camaraderie. These groups often invite external speakers to impart knowledge and offer activities like happy hours, book clubs, and streaming reviews. Networking organizations like #GirlsClub, Ladies Hacking Society, and Women in Tech (WIT) host regular meet-ups, providing opportunities to learn and connect with other women in cybersecurity.
Promoting women’s representation in cybersecurity requires a multi-faceted approach encompassing advocacy, education, early exposure, mentoring, recruitment, and networking. By creating a more inclusive and diverse environment, the industry can tap into a wider talent pool and fill the half-million open cybersecurity positions. Increasing the number of “good girls” in the room will strengthen the industry and empower women to play an even more significant role in keeping cyber threats at bay.