In an industry facing a significant shortage of experienced people, it is remarkable that only 11% of the security workforce is women, according to the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu. This is not a job that should be thought of as predominantly or traditionally male. The image of a socially inept male wearing a hoodie and working in a windowless room late at night is best left to Hollywood. Today’s cybersecurity teams are at the forefront of corporate thinking. They are increasingly made up of highly educated and experienced professionals who work in the same environment as most other office workers, just with more screens.
However, if you look around the security operations center, it is still made up of mostly men. The women missing from your team are costing you more than just extra pairs of hands and eyes. Teams with greater gender and ethnic diversity tend to outperform more homogeneous teams, especially in innovation and financial metrics. They are more likely to foster open communication and identify previously unknown issues. The rate of innovation in cyberattacks suggests that we need every advantage we can in our defenses.
This is the part where I will play up the stereotypes a little, so let’s acknowledge that these are generalizations that have exceptions in any group. However, multiple studies support these differences between women and men: Women tend to be more empathetic, are more concerned about privacy, and react more strongly to bad things.
Empathy Helps With Relationships
Women score higher in certain areas of emotional intelligence and awareness such as interpersonal relationships and social responsibility. As a result, they tend to be more empathetic, or sensitive to the feelings of others. How does this help your security team? Empathy helps develop closer relationships among the team, with key vendors, and with customers. More empathetic individuals tend to be better listeners, more open to others’ ideas, and more understanding of the issues they face. Whether dealing with an internal or external customer, greater empathy helps build trust when things are going well, and really helps when things go wrong. Building trust with your key partners and customers can also lead to more revenue.
Privacy Concerns Help With Security Design
For a wide range of cultural and societal reasons, women are more concerned about their privacy than men. Combined with their emotional awareness and empathy, this has obvious benefits for cybersecurity. When designing or enhancing a security solution or business process, ask a woman (or several) how they would use it and whether it makes them feel secure, and pay attention to their issues and concerns. After all, half of your customers are women.
Strong Reactions Help With Incident Response
An interesting review of gender differences and emotion in Psychology Today found significant differences in the reactions of men and women to unpleasant or negative experiences. Women tended to react more strongly across the entire sampled age range, from 20 to 81. This stronger emotional reaction is especially valuable during the vital early moments of incident response. The women on your team will likely consider a breach to be more serious and encourage a more significant response than if there were no women.
Where Can You Find Security Women?
If after reading this you want some or more women on your team, where can you find them? Start by thinking about how you represent the job. Don’t position it as scary and militaristic, but instead appeal to women's empathy and talk about protecting others. Then look for women inside your organization and those with outside technology organizations such as Girls Who Code to work with.
And finally, don’t forget to deal with your work environment. You may not want to admit it, but one of the primary reasons there are few women in technology in general is not that the jobs are uninteresting, but that many leave the field due to the workplace culture, according to a recent study by the Society of Women Engineers. Changing this aspect of your company could be a real competitive advantage to attracting and retaining security personnel.