Gender Equality in Cybersecurity: SciFi or Reality?

By Connie McLellan, project manager, imsmartin

Inspired by the Feminist Movement in the 70s, I decided to pursue a career in technology. In my first interview, the hiring manager stated, “Women don’t make it in this business,” probably thinking this bold sexist remark was okay since I was being offered the job. Sexism today is more insidious. 

Cybersecurity Job Breakdown

Computer science is one of the fastest-growing fields globally, paying very high salaries for even entry-level positions. It is well known that there is a global, critical cybersecurity workforce shortage with the skill deficiency projected to continue at least through 2020. But why are only 25% of computing jobs (11% in cybersecurity[i]) held by women? Since women earned only 18% of the computer science degrees in 2012, down from 27.5% in 2002[ii], this downward trend is continuing. 

While women’s competence has never been more evident, the “confidence gap” fueled by sexism in school and at work still restrains them. This is so prevalent that Tracy Chou, a Forbes 30 Under 30 in Tech award recipient, was convinced she wasn’t good enough to make it in tech and should not pursue computer science. Her article “I had so many advantages, and I barely made it”: Pinterest engineer on Silicon Valley sexism[iii] is a must read.

What do we do about this? The gender bias starts in pre-school with highly-stereotyped toys and continues through all levels of school and into the workplace. We need to give girls early exposure to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to discover the relevance to our lives. Show them that STEM solves problems, is innovative, and that girls ARE good at it. We need to reveal careers that they might never have considered.

"As an industry, we have over one million open cybersecurity jobs," said Tammy Moskites, CIO and CISO at security vendor Venafi, during a session at the recent ISSA International Conference in Chicago. "Dice, a career website serving information technology and engineering professionals, recently reported a 90% year-over-year increase in cybersecurity jobs." Given this trend, the next generation needs exposure to the storytelling, problem-solving aspects of cybersecurity and how it benefits the company.[iv] Women with these qualities—supported by strong female mentors to show them the path, how to follow the path, and how to learn from their experiences—can provide us with the cybersecurity professionals we urgently need.

What does feminism mean now? Women need to support each other and give of their time and experiences. I recommend finding local entities that support women in business and in tech specifically, and then join them. As Sheryl Sandberg so eloquently outlined in her book, Lean In, “our challenges and opportunities continue to be unique to our gender, and although any organization can be great for you, a female-specific organization can give you the opportunity to really learn and better navigate your way as a woman in business—hopefully to better days when it won’t matter what our gender is.” 

ISSA-LA (http://issala.org) will present a Women in Cybersecurity panel at its Eighth-Annual Information Security Summit, May 20 at the Universal City Hilton in Los Angeles. This panel features Pamela Fusco, Sounding Partner of Gid Grid; Andrea Hoy, President/Founder & Virtual CISO/CRO of A. Hoy & Associates; and Stephanie Douglas, Senior Advisor, Safety and Security of RANE (Risk Assistance Network and Exchange). Learn more about this session by visiting: https://summit.issala.org/

 Women in Security Panel @ ISSA Los Angeles 8th Annual Summit | May 20th, 2016 ( View panel info )

Women in Security Panel @ ISSA Los Angeles 8th Annual Summit | May 20th, 2016 (View panel info)

Also taking place during the summit, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will moderate a panel discussion entitled, Telemedicine & Other Remote Healthcare Privacy, Security & Quality, with panelists Nora Belcher, Elle Ross, and Marcy Zwelling-Aamot. This distinguished panel will share and discuss key challenges and insights on strategies for designing and using telemedicine. They will also discuss other mobile and remote-care technologies and practices to deliver or support the delivery of effective telemedicine while managing healthcare privacy, security and quality. Learn more about this session by visiting: http://sched.co/6AqD.

Additionally, I believe there is a strong connection between how technology and security are tied to bullying. Headlines are full of reports of ID theft and corporate victims of cybercrime. In my opinion, the worst of the cybercriminals are the cowards that cyberbully kids with threats, humiliating comments and harassment—at times so mercilessly that the victim commits suicide to escape this torture.

    
 
       
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	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}   Meredith O'Connor, teen pop star and anti-bullying icon

Meredith O'Connor, teen pop star and anti-bullying icon

An excellent resource in how to stay safe online, including how to teach online safety to kids of all ages can be found at https://staysafeonline.org/. Given this connection, it’s great to see teen pop star and anti-bullying icon Meredith O'Connor join the group at the ISSA-LA Summit. She will share her thoughts on being an advocate and a role model for overcoming adversity and for women in technology.

"In this day and age, no matter what industry, online security is key for protecting yourself,” said O’Connor. “I always encourage fans, young women, even teens my age all over the world to get educated in this growing, and influential field. Once I wrap up my final leg of the world tour, I will be attending college and studying graphic design."

Read more about the speakers, panels, and sessions in this ISSA LA press release.

To help girls and women find a group to assist them with their journey into technology and security, we compiled a list of some of the top technology and cybersecurity groups for women and girls. You can view the Twitter profile article here.

Finally, I want to thank the brilliant, talented women in my network of friends and colleagues that supported me and continue to hire, mentor and promote capable women (primarily in technology). You know who you are!