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What prevents women from pursuing a career in cybersecurity? - interview

Even when women manage to break into cybersecurity, they feel disregarded for promotions and experience salary inequality. I interviewed a STEM advocate to discover why women, being superheroes at home and in the workplace, feel underappreciated in cybersecurity.

In 2003, when Tricia Fields had just started climbing the career ladder in cybersecurity, she attended a conference in Canada to give a keynote speech. As she was preparing for her presentation, a Canadian gentleman approached Tricia and 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?' And I said, 'ok, I will get it for you.' And I did. But when it was time to introduce the keynote speaker, and he realized that it was me, the look on his face was priceless. I was a female in a room with a majority of men. It was like a rude awakening," Tricia once told CyberNews.

Almost twenty years have passed since that incident. Female cybersecurity professionals are more visible, especially on social media, and corporations are trying to increase female presence in positions that were once known to be dominated by men and, if we take it another step further, by Caucasian men. However, women still have a hard time breaking into cybersecurity.

These days, Fields, besides leading the Experis Solutions Cyber Security competency, is a giant STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) advocate working primarily with targeting women and young girls to let them know precisely what STEM is.

Fields has had the privilege to travel worldwide speaking, advocating, and educating organizations and students about STEM and the importance of a solid and robust security platform.

I interviewed Tricia Fields to learn more about what women bring to the cybersecurity table and what insiders can do to encourage more females to join the field.

Cybersecurity is still a very male-dominated field. Why? Are there not enough skilled women to join the area?

There are a lot of skilled women, but cyber is a field that is still not truly pushed academically. To be honest, some people can not separate cybersecurity from computer science. When I speak to groups regarding STEM, they look at me with a blank stare. I always ask the crowd what they can tell me about STEM/cybersecurity, and the responses I receive relate to computer programming and coding.

Do certain stereotypes prevent companies from hiring a female over a male?

I can see some companies having a stereotype when it comes to hiring women for certain cyber positions that work with PLC/SCADA systems, which are within the manufacturing/industrial division, such as water/wastewater, electric generation, and oil and gas. We can have the qualification and certifications to back up our skillset, but it could be looked over based on our gender.

What hiring practices could allow more women to freely enter the field of cybersecurity? Could such simple practices that some countries have implemented, for example, anonymizing the CVs by not including the candidate’s name, surname, and gender, do the trick?

I agree that accepting resumes and CVs that contain only initials and contact information is an awesome idea, but that will land the person an interview, but what happens when they attend the interview, and it is discovered that it is a female or a person of another ethnicity? I like that more companies have implemented diversity and inclusion, and we have come a long way, but we still have a long journey ahead of us to bridge the gap.

Does the fact that this field is male-dominated discourage girls/women from pursuing a career in cybersecurity? What can we do to encourage girls from a young age to join the field?

I mentor a group of young women/girls, and the Gen Z group are not afraid or discouraged from very much of anything. There is, however, an issue with respect to millennials, and to an even greater extent with baby boomers who have varying degrees of misconceptions that prevent or discourage them from pursuing opportunities in cybersecurity because of history portraying it as a male-dominated field.

It is a function of having been raised during an era where STEM was not spoken of in schools (elementary, junior high, and high school) often or if at all. Any exposure they may have received would have been (possibly) during college. Even then, there were very few cybersecurity designated degree programs or effective guidance that drew clear distinctions between studies in computer science in general and cybersecurity in particular.

As an example, my 26-year-old son has complete knowledge of my degrees and certifications. However, he still listened to the advisor at his university (instead of his mother) and earned his degree in information systems without gaining much exposure to or knowledge in cybersecurity. It was only after he started his career with a cyber-driven company and seeing firsthand the importance and emphasis that it places on security that he started asking me, “what exactly is cybersecurity and how can I get into the field.”

The key to getting more girls/women involved in the field is educating them both with respect to the field of cybersecurity and the significance and benefits of having more women pursuing opportunities in the field. I have created a Cybersecurity Professional Road Map complete with a postgraduate degree and certification track to guide the Gen Z group and hope that better information will encourage female millennials to break through any perceived barriers.

What do you find exciting about working in the field of cybersecurity? Some say it has a noble calling of fighting the bad guys.

I am a fighter and a protector by nature. I love what I do because it gives me a sense of obligation to protect the vulnerability of organizations that could possibly hold my personal or my children’s personal data that could be obtained and exploited. That does not sit well with me, and I have accepted the fact that as long as I am working in my field, I will always be a student so that I can stay informed of new tools, processes, and changes within the industry to help protect those that are unaware of what takes place behind the scenes.

The skills shortage in the field of cybersecurity is a painful issue. Do you see any initiatives to close the gap by bringing in more women?

I go back to educating and more companies recruiting more women. I will never stop advocating for more females/girls to get involved in STEM, speaking out about the importance of schools including cybersecurity as part of their curriculum. Education starts with us.

What can women bring to the table that men can’t? In other words, how would the field benefit from having more women?

I am going to be biased here. We bring that girl power. Women are natural superheroes at home and in the workplace. When I say that, I am referring to we are working and strategizing way beyond the typical eight-hour day. This is not to say that men do not bring this to the table. However, as I stated previously, women are natural nurturers and tend to see things in color vs. just black and white. Women will push for answers and more clarity until we find a solution. Before throwing in the towel, we will ensure that there was not a stone unturned.

What problems do women face once they enter the field? I read they face advancement barriers as men are more likely to get promotions and hold executive roles.

That is correct, we are disregarded for promotions, equal salary, and we are just now starting to see more women being advanced to executive (C-Suite) roles. I get excited when I see other women in executive positions. There is still a huge gap and a lot of work that needs to take place to close that gap truly. The cybersecurity field has increased the number of women in leadership roles, but another step is to now advance more women of color, different races, and ethnicities.

Diversity entails having more women and people of different races, ethnicities, cultures, experiences, etc. In this light, is cybersecurity diverse?

In my opinion, no. But I see a tremendous effort and improvement in the right direction. I am here to encourage change and be a part of the solution.

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