Women in Cybersecurity: Closing the Gender Gap

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For nearly three years, Ann Barron-DiCamillo led the charge to protect the Internet infrastructure throughout the United States, defending against cyber attacks and data breaches. As the chief of the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), Barron-DiCamillo was uniquely positioned to fortify the country’s cybersecurity. What made her position even more noteworthy was that she is a woman.

woman facing computer screen with reflection

As a female, Barron-DiCamillo broke the glass ceiling to take a significant role in cybersecurity. Today, women represent about 50 percent of the global population but only 11 percent of the cybersecurity workforce despite having higher levels of education than men overall, the 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study found.

By 2020, the cybersecurity market is projected to be worth $170 billion. At the same time, researchers expect a shortage of 1.8 million cybersecurity professionals, positioning women to move into high-level information security posts. The demand for cybersecurity professionals has far outpaced the supply, and salaries are on the rise. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found the median wage in cybersecurity to be about $93,000. Employment opportunities in the field of cybersecurity are expected to increase nearly 20 percent by 2024, “much faster than the average for all occupations,” the U.S. Department of Labor said.

Large companies including Google, IBM, and Facebook are actively recruiting women to fill cybersecurity positions because the companies realize diverse teams can better identify and neutralize threats. Students enrolled in Maryville University’s online Cybersecurity degree program study topics that include cryptography, cloud security, and incident handling. The program can prepare all students for careers in cybersecurity.

“Different skill sets are becoming more valued in security instead of just having highly technical employees,” Robb Reck, chief information security officer at Ping Identity in Denver, told the Denver Post. “Anytime you can get diversity, you expand the overall perspective of a group.”

Cybersecurity Career Opportunities

In 2016, major corporations and government agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security, were victims of cybersecurity attacks. The breaches are expected to continue unless more information security personnel are put into place, researchers said.

ISACA, a non-profit cybersecurity information and advocacy group, said there would be a global shortage of about two million IT-security professions by 2019. Every year, some 40,000 cybersecurity jobs go unfilled. In-demand job titles include security analyst, security manager, systems administrator, and security architect.

“Technology has moved so fast over the last couple of years that there’s always a little bit of a lag between when skills are demanded and when training programs and college programs and certifications can catch up,” Tim Herbert, of the non-profit tech trade group CompTIA, told CyberScoop. “There’s also a much greater use of technology across all sectors. The tech sector is the biggest employer of tech skills but we’re also seeing hiring in manufacturing, healthcare, financial services and down the line. There’s simply more demand relative to supply.”

Challenges for Women in Cybersecurity

Studies show women are underrepresented in the field of cybersecurity, but the trend is slowly shifting. The emerging change gives women just entering the field an edge over the competition for better jobs. Some of the challenges that women in cybersecurity have faced in the past include the following:

  • Gender bias – Researchers found some of the most common reasons why women do not pursue careers in cybersecurity is because of the gender gap, or the notion that some careers are specifically geared toward gender roles. Early on, computers were marketed toward boys and men. The word “cybersecurity” itself is considered to have roots in male-dominated military lingo.
  • Gender disparity — Women working in cybersecurity fields have been the focus of conscious and unconscious workplace discrimination, studies show. In one study, 51 percent of respondents who reported some form of discrimination and 87 percent felt the bias was unconscious.

Moving Women into Cybersecurity

Researchers found companies are taking steps today to move more women into the field of cybersecurity, following recommendations to make workplaces diverse. The push to a comprehensive expansion of women in the field includes the following:

  • Inclusive branding – Information security companies should avoid male-oriented language and military-inspired messaging that promotes a “boy’s club” messaging.
  • Mentoring – Both men and women can serve as mentors for new and upcoming cybersecurity specialists. Experts recommend mentorship programs that start on the college level.
  • Better recruitment practices – In addition to reaching out to recruitment firms and college campuses, big businesses are taking part in female-oriented information tech conferences around the country.

Trailblazing Women in Cybersecurity

Today, many women have taken leadership roles in cybersecurity. Barron-DiCamillo, while working at US-CERT, oversaw the around-the-clock operations to block cyber threats against the country. Today she is a vice president of cyber threat intelligence and incident response at American Express. She said the once male-focused cybersecurity world has moved beyond stereotypes.

“Cybersecurity is not just programmers in hoodies and a series of zeroes and ones,” she said.

Other prominent female cybersecurity experts include the following:

  • Niloofar Howe: As the chief strategy officer for the cybersecurity firm RSA, Howe has a long history as a venture capitalist, entrepreneur, and leader in the security market.
  • Essye B. Miller: Before accepting the position of the U.S. Department of Defense’s deputy chief information officer for cybersecurity, Miller was the director of security for the Army chief information officer. She has also held various leadership roles in the U.S. Air Force.
  • Angela McKay: As Microsoft’s senior director of cybersecurity and strategy, McKay also served as an advisor to former President Barack Obama. McKay moved through the ranks at Microsoft, starting in 2008 as a senior security strategist.

Maryville University’s Online Bachelor’s Degree in Cybersecurity offers advanced training in current ethical hacking techniques, mobile security, digital forensics, and malware analysis. All skills are learned and practiced in Maryville University’s virtual training lab. Upon graduation, students may qualify for high-paying positions such as networking consultant, information security manager, security analyst, or network architect in some of the world’s largest tech companies. Contact Maryville University for more information.

Sources

Center for Cyber Safety and Education, Women in Cybersecurity Report

CyberScoop, How to make sense of the wide open cybersecurity job market

The Denver Post, Cybersecurity industry hopes women will help fill 1.8 million jobs

HARVARDKennedySchool, Women in Cybersecurity

ISACA, 2016 Cybersecurity Skills Gap

LinkedIn, Angela McKay

NPR, When Women Stopped Coding

O*Net Online, Information Security Analysts

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Information Security Analysts

U.S. Department of Defense, Essye B. Miller Biography

U.S. Department of Justice, How to Protect Your Networks from Ransomware: Technical Guidance Document