#PrideMonth: Charles Britt Discusses LGBTQ Representation in Cyber

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It is becoming increasingly recognized that fostering diversity – be it neurologically, age, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation – is vital for all industries. This is not just concerning the moral case for growing opportunities among marginalized communities, strong, though, as it is. It is also about ensuring that a wide range of perspectives and experiences are at play in all sectors that can challenge the status quo and drive progress.

When it comes to cybersecurity, the well-publicized skills gap means that job opportunities must be available to the widest pool of people possible to ensure the talent pipeline is sufficiently stocked. During this year’s Pride month, Infosecurity wanted to find out more about the particular opportunities and challenges relating to the LGBTQ community in cyber and what more the industry can do to help in this respect.

For this, we were delighted to catch up with Charles Britt, a man who knows a thing or two about overcoming barriers to forge a career in cyber. He is a member of both the black and LGBTQ communities, who has risen to a high-level position in the industry – as a cybersecurity compliance officer at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He also runs a consultancy business, offering coaching services for those keen to launch a career in IT and cybersecurity, and has recently been appointed as the head of the Youth Partnership committee for Out in Tech, a non-profit organization designed to help the LGBTQ community develop their career in the tech industry.

Speaking to Britt over a video call, his high energy and passion for cyber and improving diversity in the industry were quickly apparent. He began by making the point that anecdotally, he has observed a particular lack of representation of the LGBTQ community in cybersecurity, even compared to other underrepresented groups.

“As far as I know, I’m the only out LGBTQ person on my cyber team. It amazes me that I’m actually the only person,” he noted. This is even apparent at Out in Tech, where there are far fewer LGBTQ individuals in its cyber channel than other parts of the tech field. “I’m pretty sure that’s indicative of the industry, that you just don’t find a lot,” he added.

Engaging the LGBTQ Community Around Cybersecurity

This phenomenon may be explained by a lack of initiatives looking to “introduce and engage the LGBTQ community around cybersecurity,” according to Britt. While professional organizations such as CompTIA and ISC2, and tech firms like Google and Microsoft, have taken significant strides to offer cyber outreach and engagement programs for many minority groups in recent years, Britt has not seen the same emphasis when it comes to the LGBTQ community. “I don’t know of a targeted effort to introduce and engage the LGBTQ community around cybersecurity,” he outlined.

This is despite individuals from this community generally facing the same societal challenges as other marginalized groups. Britt believes that a big step towards addressing these challenges is stable employment, which the fast-growing cybersecurity sector most definitely offers. “Even in the US, LGBTQ people have barriers in housing, to employment, and I’m a firm believer even with my own background as a minority in the US that tech really changed the trajectory for me,” stated Britt.

"I'm a firm believer even with my own background as a minority in the US that tech really changed the trajectory for me"

This belief is born out of personal experience, making Britt’s perspective all the more insightful: “I grew up in a single parent home and understand what financial and housing insecurity looks like, but once I got a job in tech, I have not had to look back, have never been unemployed, because there are many opportunities in the tech field and now I have transitioned to cyber,” he said.

In his new role at Out in Tech, Britt, therefore, sees a huge opportunity to bring about real change in this direction. He believes the foundation of this approach should be to grow awareness of the career opportunities and pathways that exist in cyber, which is currently very low among minority groups. He noted the perception among these groups is often that everyone in cybersecurity is a hacker, but “actually, we don’t need more hackers, we need more people who can secure our systems from the hackers.”

Britt added that many people from these communities also believe that deep technical insights are required before entering the field, which is not necessarily the case given the wide range of available roles. “You can learn it; you’ve got tonnes of people who have career switched,” he outlined. “So if you’re a project manager or you’ve got good communication skills, there’s still a way for you to leverage those skills in cybersecurity, and I think across the board that’s what people from the LGBTQ community and communities of color need to understand.”

Just last week, Britt took part in his first event as partnerships manager at Out in Tech, which focused on this area. “The whole focus of that event is to talk about the non-traditional pathways into the tech industry, including cybersecurity, and that you don’t have to have a degree in computer science, you don’t have to be an expert in maths, and you don’t have to be a nerd – all those perceptions that go along with working in the field,” he explained.

Another initiative Britt and his colleagues at Out in Tech are looking at is partnering with big tech firms such as Google to provide training vouchers for their cybersecurity courses. “That’s going to be key because right now these students aren’t in college so they’re not on the path,” he commented, adding: “so if you take the course, and once you pass the exam, you’re certified to provide IT support on Google products within an environment.”

Other ideas include hackathon type events to allow LGBTQ individuals to compete against one another in solving cybersecurity issues, and working with corporate partners to offer a technology grant to ensure youngsters from this community have access to the internet and devices to “complete training, search for jobs and participate in virtual events.”

Advice for the LGBTQ Community

Britt also emphasized the need for LGBTQ people interested in pursuing a career in cyber to take the initiative in exploiting the available networking opportunities. In particular, it is critical to build connections by joining organizations such as Out in Tech, “where you can connect with folks in the field to find someone who can mentor or be of support to you.” This can help provide a focus, which is essential in building a career in an area such as cyber, where there is such a wide variety of jobs. He explained: “I have a career coaching company and have folks coming to me all the time saying ‘I want to go into tech’ and I ask ‘what do you want to do’ – and so many say ‘I don’t know’. Well, I can’t coach you into a job in tech without understanding the specific field or path you want to enter. So it starts with understanding what your skills are.”

He added: “There are opportunities. You may not be hearing about it, but there are, and I can’t sing them enough.”

Gaining greater levels of interest among the LGBTQ community in pursuing a career in security is not just a moral imperative. It can also help address the cyber skills gap. The number of people identifying as LGBTQ is growing fast. This community was recently estimated to make up 5.6% of all adults in the US, representing a vast pool of potential talent that should not be ignored.

Additionally, it is crucial to have a range of people who can think like cyber threat actors, who themselves come from all walks of life, in order to respond effectively to attacks. This principle applies to the LGBTQ community in the same way as any other, according to Britt.

“You’ve got to have that diversity of mindset; we’ve got to have people at the table who think like them, know their backgrounds or what they’re after – people who have political agendas, things of that nature,” he explained. “Someone from my community fully understands the political agendas against certain communities and where the threats may be as it relates to cybersecurity. So when you’re developing an app or some software, you’re keeping in mind everyone in the world, everyone is going to be a user or consumer of that technology. That diversity of thought is so important.”

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