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Security Industry Takes Steps To Close Gender Gap

A recent surge of programs and initiatives to nurture women and girl's interests and careers in cybersecurity and technology bodes well for an industry that desperately needs to close a persistent gender gap.

Emily Johnson

October 6, 2016

7 Min Read

Finally, some good news for growing gender gap in cybersecurity and technology: several new initiatives recently have launched to bring cybersecurity and IT education and career development to young girls and women.

'Cyber Scouts'

The Girl Scouts are going cyber. The Center for Cyber Safety and Education - a division of (ISC)2, recently partnered with the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida at GS Fest 2016 to launch the first Girl Scout Cyber Safety Patch as part of the Center’s Safe and Secure Online program. The purpose of the program is to educate girls about safe cybersecurity practices as well as foster an interest in cybersecurity and technology careers.

Kids continue to engage on the Internet at younger and younger ages, says Pat Craven, director for the Center for Cyber Safety and Education. And while the age for opening a Facebook account is 13, the Center's research shows that that kids are opening accounts at younger ages.

The new Girl Scout patch, which was completed by 200 girls and 100 troop leaders last week, features "spokescat" Garfield and friends by creator Jim Davis, as well as a new character, Dr. Cybina, a female cat who is also a CISSP. Creating a female cat character that is a CISSP to deliver security lessons in this cyber safety series (that uses an interactive cartoon, comic books, and stickers) was a strategic move.

The goal is to portray a woman in a cybersecurity profession and give the girls something to aspire to, says Craven. “It’s not going to change the gap in the next year or two, but we hope in the long run it’ll encourage more girls to enter the [cybersecurity] field,” he says.

And the Center wasn’t the only tech group at GS Fest 2016, signaling the growing interest to bring technology education and career awareness to young girls. “Even Microsoft had a booth there to promote getting into coding.”

“STEM education is really important to Girl Scouts because we understand and know that girls are underrepresented in the STEM field, including cybersecurity,” says Jessica Muroff, CEO of the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida. “Not only are [girls] interested in [STEM topics], but it’s such a big field with so many options -- educating them about it is really important to us. This program and this patch is exposing them to the career and business behind it.”

Giving a New Face to Cybersecurity and IT

“We can do IT” is the new Rosie the Riveter slogan for CompTIA's Rebranding Rosie the Riveter campaign that addresses the gender gap in IT and security roles today. The landing page, which uses the tagline “Make Tech Her Story,” allows visitors to create a Rosie in their image and share it to social media to both encourage women and diversity in technology.

The campaign was born out of a recent study CompTIA conducted that found that girls’ interest in technology careers dwindles as they get older. Twenty-seven percent of middle school-aged girls surveyed (10–13 years-old) have considered an IT career, but in high school-aged girls (14–17 years-old), the number drops to just 18%.

The campaign and study is also a response to the fact that the technology community is not very gender-diverse, says Steven Ostrowski, director of corporate communications for CompTIA.

“The ratio of men to women in technology is about 75% to 25% and that’s been fairly consistent for a number of years,” he says. “We tried to get beyond the fact, that yes, we’d like to get more gender-diverse and figure out what is it that’s keeping young girls from considering a tech option.”

One reason for this could be that as girls get older and begin to think about careers, the number of women that they see represented in technology is very small.

“A big shortcoming on our part as an industry is a lack of role models,” Ostrowski says. “Just 37% of girls know someone with an IT job. Besides a parent, there needs to be someone to look up to, offer advice."

The Dream IT program by CompTIA’s Advancing Women in Technology Community is one program that is helping bring positive female role models in technology to girls and women interested in IT, according to Ostrowski.  

The program offers videos, turnkey presentations, and other resources for volunteers who are interested in sharing information with students and other women on careers in technology. It also provides a way for visitors to the site to request speakers for schools and groups, and a career resource center that offers women information on technology jobs and salaries, technology groups in their area, and real-life accounts of women working in IT.

“Hopefully through [the Rebranding Rosie the Riveter campaign] and other things we’re doing, we can make some dent and turn that 25% figure upward and get a better balance in our workforce,” says Ostrowski.

Career Development for Women

Despite the fact that women now hold higher advanced degrees in security than men do, women are still not equally represented in security and technology roles. In order to combat this issue, the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) launched a new program called Connecting Women Leaders in Technology. According to their website, the program was developed 

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to “attract more women into the technology professions, provide support tools to help advance and sustain women’s careers, and deliver educational opportunities to develop skills and increase knowledge to further enhance women’s leadership within the global technology workforce.”

The program, which was established by ISACA’s Women in Leadership Council plans to offer women in technology tracks at two to three of the ISACA conferences next year as well as at least two webinars on advancing the careers of women in technology. The program also plans to bring networking opportunities for women to the ISACA conferences and has already created a webinar on how to network as a woman.  

“We firmly believe that unless you have women in leadership, you’re not going to have the rounded conversations about IT security that you get if you have a male-dominated environment, and that women need to be there and represented in the same proportions as men,” says Jane Whitgift, CISM, M.Inst.ISP, a member of the ISACA’s Women’s Leadership Council and virtual chief information security officer (CISO) with Whitgift Security.

Investing in the Future

In addition to programs that will nurture women who are already in security and technology careers, the STEM community is also stepping up to financially invest in women who are currently studying computing majors and will soon be entering the workforce.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently gave a $300,000 grant to Mississippi State University (MSU) to encourage young women to enter science-based fields.

According to the National Science Foundation, Science and Engineering Indicators 2016 report, the proportion of women completing the computer science degrees they set out to earn has declined from 28% to 18%. This is despite the fact that the proportion of freshmen women declaring a computer science major when first enrolled in a 4-year institution has remained stable (at about 20% in recent years). The report also sites a study that concluded that same-sex peer support was the most significant factor affecting retention rates.

The project funded by this grant, Mississippi Alliance for Women in Computing project, aims to tackle the problem of retention rates of women in undergraduate computing majors as well as help postsecondary women make the transition to the computing workforce. The project also focuses on diversity in technology and will put programs in place to attract women of color to computing.

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About the Author(s)

Emily Johnson

Digital Content Editor, InformationWeek

Emily Johnson is the digital content editor for InformationWeek. Prior to this role, Emily worked within UBM America's technology group as an associate editor on their content marketing team. Emily started her career at UBM in 2011 and spent four and a half years in content and marketing roles supporting the UBM America's IT events portfolio. Emily earned her BA in English and a minor in music from the University of California, Berkeley. Follow her on Twitter @gold_em.

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