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We Must Attract Women into Cybersecurity to Close the Skills Gap #IWD2018

Cybercrime is growing exponentially and wreaking havoc on businesses in compound ways. Most notably, last year the cost of this activity on businesses leapt 23%, yet the increase in skilled labor to mitigate this challenge has fallen short of the demand – there is just not enough talent to plug crucial gaps.

According to recent a report by (ISC)2, the information security field will experience a 1.5 million deficit in professionals by 2020, furthermore, we continue to experience a staggering under-representation of females in the sector.

On this International Women’s Day, we see women encompass only 10 percent of the global workforce, and it is a number that’s remained stubbornly static for years, so, how can we encourage more of them into cybersecurity to remove the existing skills gap?
Education is not the problem. When looking at computer science and engineering degrees, the (ISC)2 report found that women in information security are closing the gap on men, Furthermore, women are entering the industry with higher education levels than men do. In the cybersecurity profession, 51% of women hold a master’s degrees or higher, compared to 45% of their male counterparts.

By leveraging the increasing interest among women in technology today and inspiring teenagers and young girls into the sector through education, industry leaders could dramatically reduce the workforce deficit. 

Diversity Brings Dividends
A combination of skills (for example critical thinking, technical knowledge, project management, understanding of organizational behavior, planning and communication abilities) is required to resolve cybersecurity problems, which aren’t sufficiently represented by a single group. Also, several studies have found that diverse groups are better at problem solving compared to homogeneous ones.

Assembling teams that have an equal mix of men and women should be a priority for any IT firm determined to combat the cyber-threats of today and in the future.

Scarcity of Soft Skills
It can be argued that women also bring critical soft skills to the table. Attracting more women to information security degree programs not only raises the number of skilled technologists, but also helps leverage diverse talents, perspectives and experiences to complement their male counterparts.

The (ISC)2 research shows that companies have to look further than technical skills during the recruitment process because those attributes alone cannot cover all the issues involved with the management of cybersecurity.

Females are more cautious when managing business objectives and risk management in cybersecurity; they are more likely to be outshine men when collaborating across multiple stakeholders and, women are inclined to be more open-minded around training methods, offering greater accessibility and a diverse range of opportunities to help improve success of staff and employee retention.

Finding Female Talent
It is critical that the information security industry thinks about the long term hiring process in order to benefit from the advantages women can bring to the table. Too often, cybersecurity is perceived as being a “man’s world” and, consequently, younger women require additional encouragement and provision to persuade them into a male-dominated degree program and career.

To eliminate this problem and see more the females enter the talent pipeline, young girls need greater access to education programs such as computer camps or girl-centric schemes, like Girls Who Code. By opening up the cybersecurity career path at an early age, there is a potential knock-on effect on the number of girls taking up STEM degrees.

Furthermore, career counseling in schools has to take a more concerted effort in promoting cybersecurity career paths and opportunities — and organizations across the UK need to be offering more internships.

Private sector businesses should also work more with our schools and universities to ensure there is a greater number of high quality options available. Reinforcing the value that women bring to the industry is especially important when it comes to making sure that young girls in primary and secondary school see female role models in STEM careers.

Therefore, the sector would do well to implement campaigns that champion women in security and IT fields, providing young women role models and an insight into what a career in cybersecurity would entail.

Junior talent already within cybersecurity companies cannot be ignored. Partnering individuals with a mentor or sponsor (female or male), would increase retention and support career advancement and, companies need to appreciate that salary incentives aren’t the only thing that women are looking for in employment. According to (ISC)2, an amalgamation of monetary incentives, training and continuing education, and flexible work arrangements, are extremely valued by female cybersecurity talent.

Opportunity for Growth
Throughout the industry, as part of their development and growth, businesses are establishing huge complex networks to support new business services, and cybersecurity has been identified as a crucial area to focus on. Gartner has predicted that IT security spending will grow from $75 billion in 2015 to $101 billion in 2018 – an increase of 35 percent. The increase in expenditures provides attractive opportunities for women seeking stable employment and competitive wages. Female students studying STEM–related subjects, who may not have considered a career in cybersecurity, need to be aware of this opportunity.

There are myriad benefits of recruiting more women into information security. Females are assured of an exciting, stable and cutting-edge career path, and organizations looking to get ahead of the security curve get an invaluable source of highly educated talent.

Hiring more women not only helps mitigate against the shortage of workers and skills gap, it expands perspectives amongst security teams, helping to consolidate program strategies and give organizations a better means to defend against the tidal wave of complex cyber-attacks they face every day.

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