Cyber women: if they got into cybersecurity, so can you

Women account for a mere quarter of the cybersecurity workforce. Some tell stories of discrimination, career delays, and lesser pay. Why, then, do they encourage more women to join?

Agnese Morici, a security expert, once walked into a NATO Committee meeting, and everyone thought she was a waitress. A woman, then 25 years old, surely couldn’t be advising a roomful of military men – could she?

Another cybersecurity expert, Tricia Fields, once told Cybernews about an unpleasant encounter from twenty years ago, when she had just started climbing the career ladder. While she was preparing for a keynote speech at a conference in Canada, a gentleman approached her, handed her his coat, and asked her to get him a coffee.

"It stunned me. I was sitting there like, 'do what?' And he said, 'sweetie, can you give me a cup of coffee?’"

Unfortunately, none of these stories are that unusual: while some women do thrive in the field, many have difficulty breaking into cybersecurity.

Grim statistics

According to the international cybersecurity membership organization (ISC)2, women make up 24% of the cybersecurity workforce, with much lower percentages in some parts of the world.

Worryingly, the struggle is not over once a woman elbows her way into the field. The (ISC)2 study revealed that 30% of female employees feel discriminated against at work.

“Professionals have told me they lack a sense of belonging when they are the only woman in the room,” Clar Rosso, CEO of (ISC)2, said.

The Women in Cybersecurity research showed that younger women face less severe pay discrepancies than the Baby Boomer generation, but there is room left for progress, as women’s salaries still need to catch up: 17% of women earn $50,000 to $99,999, compared to 29% of men.

According to the Empowering Women to Work in Cybersecurity Is a Win-Win study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Global Cybersecurity Forum, 37% of women believe that achieving a good work-life balance in the field is difficult for females, who also want to raise a family.

Women in cyber stats

You need a mentor

"I didn't know I wanted to be in security until I got here!" said Phanneth Wood, global solutions director at a cybersecurity firm, Deep Instinct. Before the collapse of the housing market over a decade ago, she used to work as a lender for a financial institution.

"Don't let other people tell you the assumed ‘role’ you play based on gender. Since then [early career], I've been fortunate to have leaders support me without my gender being a factor. On great teams where everyone has a seat at the table, a teammate's gender is neutral," she said.

The cybersecurity field is 3.4 million workers short of demand. And bringing more women on board is one of the ways to address the issue.

According to the (ISC)2 cybersecurity workforce study, 57% of companies plan to invest in initiatives to attract more women and minorities to the field to address the skills shortage.

Don't assume there is anything you can't do. Don't be afraid to apply for the job you think someone else might do better than you. Get out of your own way! Go for it! Find a mentor who has overcome similar obstacles, make sure your performance and work ethic demonstrate persistence and perseverance, learn the technology, and highlight your experience and expertise,

Wood said.

Females with higher awareness about the field have positive perceptions about cyber as a career choice, picturing cyber women as cool coders. Meanwhile, those in the dark think of cybersecurity females as nerds or hackers, as if these were insulting words.

That's why having a mentor is crucial. "Debunking stereotypes and negative perceptions of cybersecurity workers will be necessary to attract more women to the field," the Win-Win study added.

Everyone is welcome

“The cybersecurity industry needs background knowledge from all kinds of fields. To the end, threat/cyber actors are people,” Lorri Janssen-Anessi, director of external cyber assessments at cyber defense platform, BlueVoyant, said.

In fact, even psychologists are welcome to the field, as Vandana Verma, a celebrated security expert who preaches diversity, once told Cybernews.

Janssen-Anessi began her career serving in the US Air Force as a technical language analyst working on one of the US government’s highest priority missions, counterterrorism, after 9/11.

“As national priorities evolved and cyberattacks became more pervasive, I was called to work in the cyber security mission at the National Security Agency, an organization that was truly a pioneer in the field of cybersecurity. Finding this new field to be extremely rewarding, it kick-started my passion for all things technology and cyber-related,” she said.

Her advice to women is to find something they are passionate about and continue to grow in that field.

“Don’t be afraid to be heard, use your voice, and share your knowledge and opinion. Also, apply to positions that scare you. Human nature makes us question our capabilities and abilities, but if you are offered an opportunity, and you don’t feel quite ‘enough’ – my advice is to take it anyway. You will learn, challenge yourself, and grow. Your teammates will reap the benefits of that growth and encourage everyone to grow together,“ Janssen-Anessi said.

More from Cybernews:

What prevents women from pursuing a career in cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity limbo: is there a place for women in the industry?

What men can do to help women enter the cybersecurity field

Bonnie Butlin: women in cybersecurity are often working without much recognition

She quit showbiz for cybersecurity

Katie Shuck: there’s a lack of support for girls to enter cybersecurity

Mom Friend author's top cyber tips for keeping kids safe

Vandana Verma: why do we need psychologists in infosecurity?

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