WEF: 217 More Years Until Women and Men Reach Economic Equality

Progress toward economic parity is in reverse for the first time since 2006, but cybersecurity can help change the game.

Kelly Sheridan, Former Senior Editor, Dark Reading

July 5, 2018

4 Min Read

It could be 217 years before women achieve global economic parity with men, reports the World Economic Forum (WEF), whose data indicates a bleak future for financial equality.

This is the first time the "Global Gender Gap Report" showed gender parity is shifting into reverse since WEF began compiling its index in 2006. Researchers annually evaluate 144 countries on their progress toward equality across four categories: educational attainment, health and survival, economic participation and opportunity, and political empowerment.

Progress has been strong for the first two sectors, where countries on average have closed 95% and 96% of the gap, respectively. However, it has been comparatively weak for the latter two, where the average gap closure is 58% and 23%, respectively. WEF researchers estimate it will take 168 years to close the gender gap in North America.

The equality numbers aren't much better in the subsector of cybersecurity. In a recent survey, researchers from the Cyentia Institute and Cybrary polled 2,973 women in IT and security. They found 63% are not paid equally to men, and 55% say their employers don't actively recruit women.

Why Women Fall Behind
Part of the problem is a lack of experience among female candidates and organizations' unwillingness to educate them, says Cybrary COO Kathie Miley. The majority of women Cybrary surveyed have less than three years of experience in security, and 53% say their employers don't offer cybersecurity or certification training.

"We have a huge disparity in hiring [and] allowing women to enter the cyber workforce [so they can] gain the requisite experience their male counterparts have," she says. "It's a catch-22: We're not hiring women enough to allow them to develop, and [businesses] can't pay them the equivalent to a man who has more experience."

While cybersecurity curricula has only begun to emerge at universities within the past decade, Miley believes the disparity starts earlier. "We haven't done a good job at all as a country, as a global citizenship, of nurturing women into technology and mathematics," she says. Men often start building their tech experience earlier than women and continue accelerating ahead.

Businesses hiring security pros generally don't have diversity top-of-mind either, Miley continues. They're primarily interested in experience. It's understandable, of course, to want to hire security pros with backgrounds to do the job – but an unwillingness to train employees in a field as rapidly changing as cyber puts both candidates and businesses at a disadvantage, especially at a time when most organizations struggle to recruit and retain skilled employees.

"Most people with five to 10 years of experience are already in positions and not looking to change," she explains. "We have to move forward and look for people who don't fit that traditional profile and bring them in and pay them properly."

It's Time for Women To Take the Wheel
If we want to accelerate on the track toward equality, women need to take the driver's seat.

"Women tend to take a softer voice in executive boardrooms and management meetings, where males dominate the conversation and women don't speak up and make themselves head," Miley says. "[They] need to have good conversation without feeling intimidated."

WEF teamed with LinkedIn to explore hiring trends around women in IT. They found industries with strong gender parity, such as corporate services, take a larger-than-average proportion of hires from the female talent pool. Women make up 23% of all LinkedIn users with computer science degrees but 32% of computer science degree holders in corporate services.

Sectors with poor gender parity, such as manufacturing, hire a lower-than-average proportion of female employees. Experts suggest a dual approach to close the economic gender gap. At an educational level, they say, we need to rebalance degree specialization choices. At a workplace level, we need to avoid exacerbating the imbalance that already exists.

Miley echoes their sentiments. It's time to stop pretending women aren't interested in cyber, she explains, and provide the tools all employees need to build their skills and stay ahead.

Women are pursuing cybersecurity education, she adds, citing data from e-learning platform Cybrary. The top five courses women take are CompTIA A+, Ethical Hacking, CompTIA Security+, Cisco CCNA, and CISSP. She points out that women generally pursue less technical topics, which are more accessible for those with career backgrounds outside the tech field.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Sheridan

Former Senior Editor, Dark Reading

Kelly Sheridan was formerly a Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focused on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial services. Sheridan earned her BA in English at Villanova University. You can follow her on Twitter @kellymsheridan.

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