Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Careers & People

08:00 PM
Connect Directly

Best Practices for Recruiting & Retaining Women in Security

Gender diversity can help fill the security talent gap, new Forrester Research report says.

The ongoing challenge to fill mass cybersecurity job vacancies amid the backdrop of a lack of diversity continues to haunt one of the world's hottest industries.

But there are some best practices organizations can adopt to help hack the talent gap by recruiting and then retaining more women in the cybersecurity field, according to a new report from Forrester Research. A lack of staff (25%) and lack of staff with the right skills (22%) are the biggest challenges today for IT security decision-makers, according to the report, which draws from interviews with more than 30 women in the security field as well as men in security leadership roles, and other survey data and research.

The best practices for recruiting and retaining women in security include where to recruit outside – and within – an organization, how to build a relationship with the HR department, and creating a more inclusive and less biased corporate culture that attracts and fosters more diversity.

Forrester analyst Stephanie Balaouras, who co-authored the report with fellow analyst Claire O'Malley, says there are a couple of best practices for recruiting and retention that are fairly simple to adopt right away. "I definitely think recruiting beyond traditional security conferences and [job] fairs … is an easy step" to broaden recruitment, she says. "And looking at internal [employees who are] career-changers is a really easy one to take on, too."

That means attending or sponsoring conferences like Women in Security and Privacy, or Grace Hopper, for example, and recruiting from colleges and universities that enroll more or mostly women. Look for existing employees with risk and technology, or business skills, who may be interested in a career change like an IT staffer or business staff with strong communications skills and creativity, Forrester recommends.

On the retention side, Balaouras recommends security mentoring programs for women on staff and advocating for cybersecurity events to become more inclusive and welcoming to women. "I myself personally benefited from mentoring, and a lot of people we interviewed for the report had mentors, [including] vendors outside of their job as part of their network, too," she says. "And being a part of cultural change at cybersecurity events" is another initial first step to help in the retention equation, she says.

Number Crunching

Forrester's report cites the widely reported 11% statistic that quantifies women's representation in the security industry worldwide, and the projected 1.8 million empty security positions worldwide by 2020, according to the Frost & Sullivan report from last year.

But initial data from an as-yet unpublished study by Cybersecurity Ventures shows the 11% number may be a bit on the low side. Steve Morgan, CEO and founder of Cybersecurity Ventures, says his firm's research finds the number of women in cybersecurity jobs worldwide is actually over 20%. That number takes into account security vendors, security service providers, small-to midsized enterprises, and security startups in Israel that include women in their ranks.

"We looked at dozens of different sources and tried to synthesize [the data] and did our own outreach," Morgan explains. Morgan says that while his firm's data appears to indicate a healthier representation of women in the industry, it's still not great news.

"Women are definitely underrepresented," he says.

Forrester's Balaouras says she believes women now represent somewhere between 15- and 20% of the industry when security vendors are included in the headcount, and other factors. "It depends on how you define security. If you include security and risk, and include privacy, compliance and audit functions, I could easily see that it gets to 15- to 20% women."

If the data is focused specifically on core security architecture and operations, including detection, threat hunting, forensics and incident response, the figure stays at about 11%, she says.

Meanwhile, Forrester's report also notes that diverse teams and companies tend to be more successful, so there's an obvious business benefit as well. "Studies show that diverse groups focus more on the facts, process these facts more carefully, and are more innovative — all outstanding attributes for a security team," the report says.

"Companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to see returns above the industry mean," Forrester said, citing data from a Harvard Business Review report.

Best Practices

Here are Forrester's Best Practices for recruiting women in security:

Connect women with cybersecurity early on
Outreach with free cybersecurity classes and certificate training for underrepresented populations, for example. Another example is Palo Alto Networks' partnership with the Girl Scouts' cybersecurity badge.

Recruit from academic institutions with a higher enrollment of women
Check out colleges such as the The University at Buffalo, Florida Institute of Technology, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which partner with Women in Science and Engineering and the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies. Consider recruiting from women's colleges like Bryn Mawr, Smith, and Wellesley.

Look to internal career-changers
Existing employees with risk and technology or business chops who bring risk management skills as well as communications and creativity strengths.

Look beyond STEM backgrounds
Few of the women Forrester interviewed began their careers via a traditional path.

Join forces with HR
Human Resources plays a major role in selecting job candidates, so work with HR to be sure you're on the same page on diversity of hiring and the type of qualifications needed.

Sponsor, recruit from diverse security events
Think Grace Hopper, etc.

Mentoring programs
Encourage security staff to mentor women both inside and outside the organization.

Here are Forrester's Best Practices for retaining and promoting women in security:

Track data on your diversity in hiring, promotions
How many women are in technical security jobs? How many have applied for open security positions? "Work with your HR department to dig into behaviors that may be holding candidates or employees back, and be honest about what needs to change," the report says.

Provide training to deal with internal unconscious bias issues
DCI Consulting, Paradigm, and PDT, are examples of firms that offer unconscious-bias training services to help organizations set policies and procedures to remedy those problems.

Offer family-friendly benefits for all employees
Flexible maternity and paternity leave, breastfeeding rooms, and working remotely.

Formal mentoring programs
Professional support, career path assistance.

Culture improvements as a performance metric
Make employees accountable for helping foster a diversity culture.

Foster cultural change at cybersecurity events
Help encourage better harassment reporting, more representation of women speakers and panelists. 


Black Hat Asia returns to Singapore with hands-on technical Trainings, cutting-edge Briefings, Arsenal open-source tool demonstrations, top-tier solutions and service providers in the Business Hall. Click for information on the conference and to register.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
US Turning Up the Heat on North Korea's Cyber Threat Operations
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  9/16/2019
MITRE Releases 2019 List of Top 25 Software Weaknesses
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  9/17/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: "He's too shy to invite me out face to face!"
Current Issue
7 Threats & Disruptive Forces Changing the Face of Cybersecurity
This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at the biggest emerging threats and disruptive forces that are changing the face of cybersecurity today.
Flash Poll
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
Your enterprise's cyber risk may depend upon the relationship between the IT team and the security team. Heres some insight on what's working and what isn't in the data center.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2019-09-21
On Supermicro H11, H12, M11, X9, X10, and X11 products, a combination of encryption and authentication problems in the virtual media service allows capture of BMC credentials and data transferred over virtual media devices. Attackers can use captured credentials to connect virtual USB devices to the...
PUBLISHED: 2019-09-21
On Supermicro X10 and X11 products, a client's access privileges may be transferred to a different client that later has the same socket file descriptor number. In opportunistic circumstances, an attacker can simply connect to the virtual media service, and then connect virtual USB devices to the se...
PUBLISHED: 2019-09-20
The html-pdf package 2.2.0 for Node.js has an arbitrary file read vulnerability via an HTML file that uses XMLHttpRequest to access a file:/// URL.
PUBLISHED: 2019-09-20
Forcepoint VPN Client for Windows versions lower than 6.6.1 have an unquoted search path vulnerability. This enables local privilege escalation to SYSTEM user. By default, only local administrators can write executables to the vulnerable directories. Forcepoint thanks Peleg Hadar of SafeBreach Labs ...
PUBLISHED: 2019-09-20
F5 BIG-IP 15.0.0, 14.1.0-, 14.0.0-, 13.0.0-, 12.1.0-, 11.6.0-11.6.4, and 11.5.1-11.5.9 and Enterprise Manager 3.1.1 may expose sensitive information and allow the system configuration to be modified when using non-default ConfigSync settings.