In recent years, we have seen a revolution in the cybersphere. An increasingly hyperconnected world has opened the doors to more malicious threats from hackers, inside and out. In response, companies of all sizes have begun taking their cyber defenses more seriously. Cybersecurity has advanced by leaps and bounds, with growing interest in the field and more training programs to build a proficient cyber workforce. Simultaneously, we’ve seen a growing parallel of women eager to join the field.
Ask Questions, Be Curious
As a former adjunct professor, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with several young women who shared that they were encouraged by parents and mentors from a young age to ask questions, be curious, and learn how things work. This inquisitive nature paid off—we’ve seen an uptick in young girls participating in cybersecurity boot camps and college coding programs, such as ICTTF and Latina Geeks. Compared to 2017, when women only accounted for 11 percent of the cybersecurity workforce, they now make up 24 percent, or one-quarter of the overall workforce, with higher percentages of women in cybersecurity holding high-level positions compared to men. While the numbers have been on the rise, there is still a need for continued growth.
Men continue to dominate in STEM fields despite more women attaining higher test scores and advanced degrees in the field. It doesn’t help that women in STEM are still paid and recognized less compared to their male colleagues, and often feel undermined or ignored in an all-male workspace. Moreover, in some regions of the world there’s still a widespread misconception that girls are not “science-minded.”
The ideal workforce attracts the right talent. We need to continue creating spaces for people who are passionate about safety and security, who are curious, who think outside the box and can balance the technical with the creative to achieve results. Some are pulled in by personal experiences; others fueled by the critical value of cybersecurity across industries. By creating space for women, we foster a balanced workforce defined by the talent of its members.
Creating More Balance in a Cyber Workforce
So how do we go about attracting more women to the field and creating a gender-balanced cyber workforce?
While more women are joining the industry, thanks to efforts at the high school and college levels, it’s important to continue promoting their talent beyond the educational sphere. Workplaces need to incorporate a culture of opportunity for women in cybersecurity by creating and championing programs that help elevate women as leaders in cybersecurity.
Nine years ago, I launched my company’s WOW (Women of the Workplace) program to support its women employees and offer mentorship opportunities to support their careers. Additionally, the company sponsors robotics programs across schools to generate an interest in security among young women. ESET is also one of the first cybersecurity companies to host a scholarship for women in cybersecurity. Since 2015, it has granted $5,000 each to three recipients in the U.S. (and now Canada) who are graduate or undergraduate students pursuing degrees in cybersecurity. Working with an underrepresented group of individuals and giving them a voice, a path, and opportunities that may not have otherwise been possible has been the greatest experience of my career. It has helped bridge the gap and create opportunities for remarkable women who have gone on to do incredible work—from mentoring other young women to getting their PhDs to starting their own businesses.
I can only imagine the strength in numbers should other companies adopt similar programs to elevate women in cybersecurity. Diversity in numbers is our greatest strength and capturing that underrepresented segment for different perspectives and approaches will help advance the future of technology and our workforce.
In the ever-changing world of technology and the Internet, the need for cybersecurity is higher than ever. In the past few weeks alone, we’ve seen a rise in ransomware attacks and a critical need for high-level cybersecurity support across governing, public, and private agencies. As the need of the hour approaches, things will only get worse before they get better, and talented people will be more in demand than ever before. By supporting women in cybersecurity today, we can ensure that we empower and protect our tomorrow.
Celeste Blodgett is VP of Human Resources at ESET North America.