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Women in cybersecurity

When pandemic struck the entire world, virtual workspaces/rooms became our only measure to stay connected to people. Court hearings, teachings, other businesses, everyone turned to virtual reality to back their declining performance.

Now, consider the word, Cybercrime. We all are well aware of what it is, and how it works. Simply put, cybercrime are the criminal activities carried out by the means of internet or computer. Since pandemic, cybercrime has been on a rise, which makes it absolutely clear why the demand for cyber-related talent has gone up. If we consider the statistics, a 25% increase has been witnessed in demand for talent in cyber-space, since the onset of COVID-19. India’s leading human resources Company, TeamLease services, even said in a report, that by the end of 2025, India will have acquainted 1.5 million people in cybersecurity.

Owing to this immediate need, organizations are scrambling to fill in their vacancies, but there’s a big piece that’s missing the pie: Women.

In 2013, research conducted by Frost and Sullivan, an American business consulting firm said that women represented just 11 percent of the worldwide cybersecurity workforce. Even though the research was limited in terms of job positions or types of cybersecurity, the result was still shockingly low. Again in 2019, a research article from cybercrime magazine concluded that, women made up approximately 20 percent of the global infosec payrolls. Even though there was an improvement, the contribution was still less. TeamLease Services co-founder and executive VP, Rituparna Chakraborty even said, that India too has an absolute shortage of women in the cybersecurity industry. They predicted that at this rate, the contribution of women in the sector’s workforce will be 11% by 2025.

On a bigger picture, it isn’t just cybersecurity which lacks women participation. Professions in the STEM category, namely,

  • Science

  • Technology

  • Engineering

  • Mathematics

are suffering from lack of women participation in their ranks, even after decades of equal gender initiatives. There is a stereotype that men suit well in careers related to the STEM industry, despite the fact that women score better in math or any science-related tests. Looking at this trend, it does offer some optimism that young women are overlooking these stereotypes in careers. But still, it will take a long time to overcome this vast gap. It isn’t just these stereotypes, pulling the women gap. Under recognized achievements and unfair pay, makes it difficult to alleviate the problem.

Before we move on to how we can bridge this gap, we need to understand why this shortfall exists.

  1. The topic of gender bias takes us back to the early decades, when educated employers were against bringing women to the job environment, with an aim to enlighten only men, who belonged to the same age.

  2. Studies even suggested that young women often have a preconception about the world, even before graduating high-school. Even though the media and government have been positive in encouraging them, teenage girls still form opinions which result them in limiting their career choices. Addition of parental influence and societal norms also add in taking teenage girls away from technical professions. A data even proved that women themselves view careers like cybersecurity requiring a more accomplished background, hence more suitable for men.

  3. Media has an important role in influencing this thinking process. Representations of high-intense war room type atmospheres and shady guys wearing hoodies, creates a negative image in people’s minds.

  4. Another reason which makes women less attracted to this field is the industry’s own terminology. Words such as “cyberattacks” are often related to military war zones, making them imagine it is a military room of some sort. Even though some areas of cybersecurity, such as ethical hacking do give off such energy, still, not every aspect works in such environment.

  5. There are even evidences that even if women join cybersecurity industry, they’re bound to leave it soon. The prime reason for this, being the intensity of this field and the “boys club” atmosphere they have to endure.

The pool of STEM professions is surely male-dominated. One cannot expect this gap to shrink overnight. Now the question arises, how can we increase women contribution in cybersecurity?

As we are now aware of the stark reality, regarding women’s participation in cyber industry, the solution is simple, we need to attract more women in this sector. Even though much is being done, which has finally started to alter this situation, we need to work more and also increase our pace. We need to adjust of behavioral shortcomings, work on the procedures and initiatives, to fully diminish the shortage in cybersecurity workforce.

  1. Beginning in the workplace itself, cybersecurity companies need to amend their internal policies to create a more female-friendlier environment. Companies can create a diverse policy for working, not just focusing on gender but ethnicity and backgrounds too. Cobalt Security Services, a security services agency working in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, once conducted a survey where they asked the respondents “what brings women to cybersecurity, and what makes them stay?” One of the respondents spoke ,“A team that integrates diversity of all kinds – disciplines, genders, backgrounds, ethnicities, etc. – ensures fresh perspectives, prompting innovation and creativity.”

  2. The same survey also concluded that 50% of the employed women belonged to fields of IT and computer science. This clearly implies that hiring managers or human resource departments are focused on sticking on their conventional pool. Hence, HRD and other hiring managers need to focus on different backgrounds when looking for new employees. They can even look at fields such as compliance, auditing, psychology, and sales where women have found success in cybersecurity.

  3. Earlier we mentioned, women are more prone to leave cybersecurity industry, no sooner they join it. Therefore, companies should focus on retaining their employees. Owing to the shortage in cybersecurity, this aspect has become too critical. Companies should focus on fostering more inclusive work environments, for attaining a consistent satisfaction from employees, particularly women and minorities. Organizations must also train employees about what true inclusiveness is all about, and make sure that everyone knows about it. Their goal should not be just about eliminating sexual harassment at workplace, but also to make women feel comfortable and respected.

  4. There are now several professional organizations in cybersecurity that serve just the needs of women and aims to promote them at workplace. Some of these are,

Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu (WSC)- Founded in 2012, the WSC is a Northern Virginia-based non-profit organization. It is focused on empowering women to succeed in the cybersecurity industry. Their mission is to advance women in cybersecurity careers by providing programs and partnerships that promote networking, education, training, mentoring, resource-sharing and other professional opportunities.

Women in Cyber Security (WiCyS)- it is a non-profit organization founded in 2012 through a National Science Foundation grant to Tennessee Tech University, and dedicated to the recruitment, retention and advancement of women in the cybersecurity field. This brainchild of Dr. Ambareen Siraj, works to improve diversity and pipeline in the cybersecurity workforce.

Executive Women’s Forum on Information Security, Risk Management and Security (EWF)- founded in 2002, the Executive Women's Forum works for inspiring leaders, transforming organizations and building businesses through education, leadership development and moreover, creating trusted relationships. The EWF is the largest member organization which serves emerging leaders as well as the most prominent and influential female executives in the Information Security, Risk Management and Privacy industries.

These organizations have annual conventions, where they gather members together to discuss women’s issues in cybersecurity, along with other topics which influence this industry. They aim to provide a positive role for women, helping to make them feel included and supported by other women.

5. Apart from this, career counselling and placement efforts should be made must for colleges and schools. Organizations should introduce cybersecurity as a desirable career option for students while opting for their undergraduate or graduate majors.

6. Promoting and providing access to industry training and certifications would also offer students a leg up in finding their way into cybersecurity. It will even provide the industry members a more forward way, to speak with students about this field. Special emphasis should be laid on interacting with teenage women in high-school, to expose them to cybersecurity, and careers related to it.

7. Many programs have also been initiated to introduce cybersecurity to women. For example, the US Air Force Association’s National Youth Cyber Education Programme, the GirlsGoCyberStart and the GirlsWhoCode.

8. Providing scholarship grants can also help in increasing enrolment in the cybersecurity boot camps. For example, the US Navy’s Information Assurance Scholarship Program, which is for both women and men. The Center for Cyber Safety and Education, a 2011 founded organization also offers a $40,000 scholarship for women studying for either a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in a cybersecurity field.

A person in the cyber field is not new to the names of Window Snyder, Lesley Carhart, Niloofar Howe and the list goes on. These are some of the renowned women in the cybersecurity industry. Learning from them, we can surely overcome the obstacles to success.

To conclude we can say, there has always been a shortage of female participants in cybersecurity sector. But due to the dramatic increase in cybercrimes, the demand for cybersecurity has increased, which in return has shed more light to this vast gap. Though we know that the gap cannot be deflated in just a snap, but there is saying “a journey of a thousand miles, begins, with a simple step.” For us that step is to find new avenues to recruit females to the workforce, amend our working environments, lay stress on retaining female employees, and most importantly, change the conventional thinking of females and young girls that cybersecurity is not just limited to a particular gender. It stretches to every ethnicity, background, colour and gender.




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