March is Women’s History Month, so it’s fitting to mention the fact that I’m a woman who works in cybersecurity. I call this out because women still only make up less than a quarter of the cybersecurity workforce. They continue to earn less, too. Let that sink in.
Don’t get me wrong — the industry has improved, but there is still a long way to go. Cybersecurity can be an incredibly intimidating field for women and young girls to enter. At the age of 21, in my home country of Albania, I worked as a developer for one of the largest marketing and distribution companies in the country. I was the only woman on the team. Eager to broaden my skill set and establish myself in the industry, I earned my master’s degree in mathematics and informatics engineering. By 23, I was balancing three jobs, lecturing at two of the top universities in Albania, and working as a data analyst — but I rarely met other women working in technology. It was a tough road to travel. At times, I felt simultaneously supported and judged.
I’m not alone in this experience. When I mentor women starting out in the field, I hear the same story. It’s a journey filled with challenges — from a lack of support to little flexibility given at home. It leaves women discouraged to continue or even try at all. All of this results in a greater gender gap in the field.
However, the need for skills continues to grow. For the fifth year in a row, industry experts say the skills crisis is rising — there aren’t enough people to do the work. The profession remains “systemically undervalued,” and more than three-quarters (76%) of organizations admit that recruiting and hiring cybersecurity staff is difficult. Hiring a warm body is the priority, and businesses don’t even have time to think about gender. But they should. The divide will only get greater, and as organizations focus on diversity, it needs to be a priority.
The diversity gap that exists is a cultural issue. Cybersecurity is still considered a man’s job and is perceived as a purely computer science discipline. Because of that, there is a stigma surrounding women who want to begin a career in this field. But there doesn’t need to be.
How Do We Get More Women Involved in Cybersecurity?
Here are three steps that vendors, schools, and associations can take to inspire more women to get involved in technology and, subsequently, cybersecurity professions:
Without diversity, there can’t be innovation. A business that surrounds itself with the same kind of people who work on the same projects will not generate new or original ideas. Introducing more women into the cybersecurity industry is critical for future idea generation and thwarting the competition. The industry needs to fill the pipeline up with future talent; otherwise, it will dry up, and the talent crisis will continue. As Shirley Chisolm, the first Black woman to serve in the US Congress, said, “You make progress by implementing ideas.”
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