As most organizations race to close the gender gap, the cybersecurity industry lags behind. A recent study found women make up only 11% of the global information security workforce, and the majority of women are underpaid compared with their male counterparts and likely to experience some form of discrimination at work.
The gender disparity is particularly disappointing given the projected workforce gap: 1.8 million cybersecurity roles are expected to go unfilled by 2022. From unconscious bias to poor recruiting tactics, female professionals looking to enter the cybersecurity space find themselves face-to-face with a number of barriers to entry.
Cybersecurity's gender discrimination problem is leaving its mark on the industry — demand for skilled security experts is quickly outstripping supply. Unless action is taken to attract, retain, and develop female professionals, the number of vacant positions will continue to grow.
Why Women Are Invisible in Security Ranks
Although some in the industry herald cybersecurity as one of the most progressive fields in which to work, it remains stuck in the past when it comes to diversifying the workforce. The security industry as a whole is commonly viewed as maintaining an old boy's club mentality, one that discourages women from even considering a career in the field. Women who make it into the industry often have to go to greater lengths to prove their ability. Female professionals in cybersecurity were found to be more educated than their male counterparts, with 51% of women entering the profession holding a master's degree or higher.
Visibility (or the lack of it) largely contributes to the low number of women in technology. Security is often considered a masculine area of expertise, deterring female job seekers from pursuing a career in such a male-dominated industry. Women already in the security industry are often left out of high-priority projects that could raise their profile both inside and outside an organization. This persistent trend of suppressing female professionals creates a number of obstacles that exclude women and challenge those seeking upward mobility.
Similarly, invisibility keeps women from attending and speaking at industry-specific conferences. While many cybersecurity events are in need of female guest speakers, they also demand high-level professionals who are established figureheads in the industry. Event organizers don't want to hire a female speaker for the sake of diversifying a conference panel — inviting just any woman isn't enough, and can even appear condescending or a form of tokenism.
To catapult more female professionals into the spotlight and make their presence felt in the industry, several changes need to occur from within security organizations.
Raising Awareness in a Field Dominated by Men
Resolving the cybersecurity gender gap won't happen overnight, but women can take take several steps to begin leveling the playing field. For a female security professional, holding office hours and providing mentorship can help younger women carve out their own path in the industry. Women should also work with their company's PR or marketing teams to get in front of the media whenever possible, proactively becoming thought leaders on subject matter they know inside and out.
In addition to boosting visibility, women can debunk existing stereotypes about who is "allowed" to work in the security field to usher more women into the industry. Public perception suggests only men with technological backgrounds can work in cybersecurity, though this is far from the case. Part of this confusion is because most job seekers don't know what types of nontechnical careers fall under cybersecurity. Jobs like social engineer and security architect don't necessarily require prior technology or security experience but are valuable roles in the cybersecurity industry. By partnering with educators to reach girls at younger ages, organizations can contribute to the growth of women in tech by dispelling common cybersecurity myths.
Achieving gender equality in the cybersecurity industry starts with raising awareness of the female professionals currently contributing to its success. From dispelling tech stereotypes to seeking out public speaking gigs, women have the ability to diversify the industry and satisfy the demand for much-needed talent.