Cybersecurity is a largely male-dominated industry — but the substantial efforts and developments that the women working in cybersecurity have made have proven to cybersecurity companies just how important it is to diversify. Today, many companies are looking to close the gender gap with better efforts to both attract and retain female talent.
A study from the Executive Women’s Forum (EWF) found that only 11 percent of cybersecurity workers worldwide are women. When it comes to leaders, specifically, the percentage is even worse. Varonis Systems, an American-Israeli software company, dove into the most recent Fortune 500 list and discovered that only 13 percent of the companies listed had women in leadership roles such as chief information security officer (CISO), chief information officer (CIO) or VP of information security; in fact, out of the 500 companies only 65 had female representation in those positions.
Despite the obvious lack of female leaders in cybersecurity, the few who've shattered the glass ceiling have made history. Women like the "Code Girls," for example, were responsible for breaking Nazi codes during WWII. Women were also among the very first programmers who worked at the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC) at the University of Pennsylvania, calculating weapons trajectories in the '40s.
Today, the women who work in cybersecurity are changing the future. Here are five women you should know.
Deidre Diamond is the founder and CEO of the national cybersecurity staffing company, Cyber Security Network (CyberSN), as well as the founder of the nonprofit platform #BrainBabe. She got her start at Rapid7 when it was a startup and, today, encourages women to enter the field, assuring them that they don't have to have technical skills.
She told Careers in Cybersecurity that, while cybersecurity is harder than she'd ever imagined, "that has created so much opportunity." She added: "Many of the opportunities are not entirely technical. I’ve never regretted not being technical. People are also needed in analytics, project management, risk, compliance, sales and marketing.”
LeClair regularly briefs the U.S. Congress on the importance of cybersecurity initiatives, and she even recently gave an interview on the subject, promoting more female involvement and showing how the tide is turning as “more and more females have entered the STEM field and especially cybersecurity.” Her book, Women in Cybersecurity offers suggestions on how and why women should enter the cybersecurity workforce today.
Alissa Johnson is the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) of Xerox, where she joined after being the first-ever CISO of Stryker and the former Deputy Chief Information Officer for the White House. For the White House, she oversaw the information technology infrastructure and budget across different locations, while reducing the infrastructure's cybersecurity attack surface, ultimately making it safer from cyber attack.
Bhavani Thuraisingham was the co-chair of the 2016 Women in Cyber Security and, today, serves as the Louis A. Beecherl, Jr. Distinguished Professor of computer science and the Executive Director of the Cyber Security Research and Education Institute at the University of Texas at Dallas. She has a number of industry awards under her belt, including the 2013 IBM Faculty Award in Cybersecurity and the 2014 SIRI Research Leadership Award for Secure Information Integration.
Lisa Jiggets, a military veteran with almost two decades of experience in cybersecurity, is the founder, president and CEO of the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu (WSC). She got her start as an IT security specialist when she serves.
In a 2014 interview with Fortune, Jiggets said that she founded WSC because she "found that women want to be technical" and that "they want to play with these tools, but they’re not given a chance or don’t know where to start."
Here are some organizations, groups, conferences and scholarships to check out if you're interested in a career in cybersecurity, yourself.
Cybersecurity is a booming industry — one that also happens to be facing a massive talent shortage, according to the Undercover Recruiter, which reports that, by 2020, the sector is projected to add about 40 percent to its workforce worldwide (which adds up to about two million jobs). In fact, in 2015, Frost and Sullivan estimated that 1.5 million positions will be open and unfilled by 2020.
This is good news for women, especially because the industry is calling on more women than ever before. The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies has stated that “diversity encourages a culture where divergent opinions can be brought together to develop innovative solutions to solve some of the toughest problems our nation faces today.”
But no progress has been made over the past two years to close the gender gap in cybersecurity.
So why haven't women pursued careers in cybersecurity for so long? Well, recent 2017 research suggests that 69 percent of young women have never met someone who works in cybersecurity, which means that they lack female references. Moreover, 45 percent are unaware of cybersecurity careers altogether — or they reject these careers due to their lack of programming experience (57 percent), not knowing that they don't necessarily need to have programming experience.
That said, it's important to note that many women who do end up going into cybersecurity face discrimination. Fifty-one percent say they've suffered some type of discrimination (compared to only 15 percent of men), such as that fact that 28 percent of women in cybersecurity say their opinions are not taken into account in the workplace.
Meanwhile, statistics from DataUSA show that male security analysts, for example, earn $100,157 on average, while their female counterparts only earn $77,347 — so the gender pay gap is wide, as well. Add to that the fact that, globally, men are four times more likely to hold C-level and executive management positions and women disproportionately occupy entry-level and nonmanagerial positions, it's no wonder women don't stick around.
Open Data Security suggests a few recommendations to boost career opportunities for women in cybersecurity. For one, there needs to be awakened interest in cybersecurity jobs, which can be done by "publicizing[women's] work in schools... to inspire young women who are in the process of opting for a professional future." After all, in a 2015 ISACA study, 77 percent of young women reported that neither a high school teacher nor a guidance counselor had ever mentioned cybersecurity as a career option to them. But programs such as #IBMCyberDay4Girls, GenCyber and Girls Who Code are working to make sure that girls are aware that this is a career they can choose, too.
Open Security Data also recommends that the industry work to change its perception, noting that "technical skills are not a priority, but critical thinking and creativity are needed," and that the industry promotes equality policies and encourages the women who work in cybersecurity already to advance in their careers through training and internal promotion.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.