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#BHUSA Empathy is Key to Hiring and Retaining Women in Cybersecurity

At Black Hat Las Vegas on August 08 2019, Rebecca Lynch of Duo Security gave a talk on hiring, and just as importantly retaining, women in the cybersecurity industry.

The statistics for gender diversity in the industry, Lynch pointed out, are worrying. Not only is the industry not seeing positive trends in this space, but actually in many areas we are seeing worsening statistics. For example, there has been a steady decrease in women graduating with computer science degrees over the past 35 years.

Perhaps more worryingly, women exit the cybersecurity industry within a decade at twice the rate of men. Of those leaving the industry, 77% cited extreme pressure and a “hostile ‘macho’ culture” as their reasons for doing so.

Lynch blames implicit bias, amongst other things, for this trend. Examples of this are the male-orientated language used, crediting an idea to the wrong person, underestimating ability and making incorrect assumptions about someone else’s role,” she said.

There is also the stereotype threat, she explained. “There is a fear that one will fulfill existing and negative stereotypes,” said Lynch. “This is proven to increase anxiety and decrease productivity and performance.”

To counteract this, Lynch suggested an increase in visibility of women at all levels. “It’s important to convey the high value of diversity.” She also suggests mentors and sponsors providing endorsement and advocacy will make a positive difference.

“It’s a complicated problem but the solutions are simple,” concluded Lynch. “It comes down to empathy and showing up for one another.”

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