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Women Are Facing an Economic Crisis & the Cybersecurity Industry Can Help

Investing in women's cybersecurity careers can bring enormous benefits and help undo some of the significant economic damage wrought by the pandemic.

The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women's careers and economic opportunities. Many women left jobs to care for children or family, while women-dominated fields like education, retail, and hospitality were some of the hardest hit. In the United States, 2.3 million women left the labor force between February 2020 and February 2021, bringing women's workforce participation rate to its lowest since 1988. In cybersecurity, however, many women experienced success in their careers over the last year. In fact, the pandemic may have even had a positive impact, according to data from Tessian.

These divergent narratives tell an important story about how opportunities in cybersecurity can help women gain back crucial economic ground, while also aiding economic recovery on a global scale. In fact, it's been estimated that if the number of women working in cybersecurity rose to equal that of men, $30.4 billion would be added to the US economy and £12.6 billion to the UK economy. Our industry has an important role to play in closing the cybersecurity gender gap and helping more women take advantage of these opportunities.

Women in Cybersecurity Thrived in 2020, but Roadblocks Persist
Recent survey data from Tessian shows 49% of women in cybersecurity report that COVID-19 positively affected their career, while only 9% say the pandemic had a negative impact. The majority (89%) of women also report feeling secure in their jobs. What's more, virtually all of them (94%) grew their teams in 2020.

These positive experiences may have a few different root causes. Throughout 2020 (not to mention the last few years), major high-profile security breaches were widely reported. When Twitter got hacked, for example, it played out in real time across millions of people's newsfeeds. These events brought increased attention to the field and highlighted the importance of cybersecurity. Meanwhile, the heightened security risks of remote work spurred more investment in IT and security. The shift to remote work also created more flexible working arrangements, potentially lowering the barrier to entry for employees who need to work from home.

Despite this positive momentum, roadblocks continue to exist for women in the field. According to Tessian's report, slightly more than half (53%) of women feel there is a gender bias problem in cybersecurity, while 47% say that equal pay would encourage more women to enter cybersecurity roles. Lack of interest from younger generations is also a roadblock: Just 31% of Gen Z say they would consider a job in the field, with men almost twice as likely as women to say so.

How the Cybersecurity Industry Can Help
It's up to cybersecurity leaders to enable women to benefit from our booming industry. Two actions can play a significant role: bringing visibility to cybersecurity opportunities and removing barriers such as pay inequity.

Nearly half (45%) of Gen Z respondents say they aren't sure whether cybersecurity is a career option for them. Many express concerns about having the skills needed to excel, while others don't know how to enter the career. The cybersecurity industry requires a diverse set of both hard and soft skills and offers a wide range of roles and opportunities. It's important to bring greater visibility to the real experiences of professionals in our field. There's still a misperception that we spend all day coding or blue-hat hacking.

We need to show more women and girls how they can explore the opportunities available to them. Industry leaders can take conscious steps to expand their talent pool by hiring more diverse candidates at junior levels and investing in their career growth. It's also important to create new opportunities for women in the field to share their expertise, whether through social media, speaking opportunities, or conference panels.

Closing the gender gap in cybersecurity won't happen overnight, but what we do now will have a significant impact on the future of the industry. Highlighting the opportunities for women and investing in them now will bring enormous benefits and can help undo some of the significant economic damage wrought by the pandemic.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer