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What Women Should Know Before Joining the Cybersecurity Industry

Three observations about our industry that might help demystify security for women entrants.

I speak to women in the cybersecurity industry almost every single day, from our own security team, to prospective candidates, female CISOs, and security professionals at our customers' organizations. I ask them all some version of the same question: What do you wish every woman thinking about a career in cybersecurity knew?

After dozens if not hundreds of these conversations, there are three themes that I hear time and time again as the most important things to know for women when evaluating the cybersecurity profession.

First, Ignore "Cyber" — It's Just Security

There's a misconception that cybersecurity is inherently a technical practice, requiring a computer science degree or a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) background. And while women have made huge strides within STEM industries, much of that has come in the sciences, with only 25% of women in STEM fields being in computer-related roles.

Women still are underrepresented in software engineering and IT. And many times, cybersecurity gets lumped together with those, and with that comes the belief that it requires the same skills. And that's simply not the case. At the core, the job of cybersecurity teams is to assess, prioritize, and work to resolve risks; nothing in there requires a STEM background or understanding of software engineering.

Sure, these risks might related to code a developer wrote, or a cloud environment the IT team deployed, but reviewing alerts, assessing the impact to the business and the potential risk, and determining the appropriate course of action — those are not things that require a security professional to be a developer or to moonlight in IT. Computer science skills and backgrounds aren't a barrier to the cybersecurity profession — we're a business function, not a technical one.

Most Important Skills: Communication, Collaboration

Over the last few years, we've seen more and more essential services, critical infrastructure, and leisure activities move online. This transformation has changed how we all work and live, and brought every aspect of modern business into the digital world, no matter what team you're on.

Software engineering teams creating new applications, hardware teams developing new mobile and virtual-reality devices, IT and DevOps teams building and maintaining cloud infrastructure, sales and marketing teams using all of these resources to track customer interactions and business metrics … everyone has a piece of the digital pie.

If you're on a cybersecurity team, you're tasked with keeping all these teams safe, each and every day. But this isn't something you can do alone. You need help from all of them in order to deliver that protection. This can be anything from asking a team to change their process to support a better security outcome, to requesting a sudden change in priorities to address a critical risk.

Getting this help requires an investment in building relationships, finding the right communication styles for different teams or peers, and focusing on working together to help everyone be safer. Without investments in these skills, you'll find yourself siloed from the very people you're trying to protect every day.

You’re Part of a Movement Making Our Industry More Equitable

Look, there's no denying cybersecurity is still a male dominated industry. In 2013, women were a mere 11% of the industry. But we're changing that every single day. Today, women are a quarter of the cybersecurity workforce. It took seven years to go from 11% to 20%, but only two years to go from there to 25%. We're closing the gender gap in cybersecurity faster than ever, across all aspects of the organization. And we're doing it together.

There are great organizations and programs out there that champion equality and diversity in cybersecurity, from Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) and Women's Society of Cyberjutsu (WSC), to organizations like Cyersity that support all underrepresented groups in the industry. The SANS Institute has an immersion course for women career-changers and college students looking to learn more. There's a plethora of tools, groups, and resources to support you in your journey every step of the way. You won't be alone and every step you take helps us all.