Women in cybersecurity

You've probably heard about the cybersecurity skills shortage. That's undoubtedly a severe problem in itself, but there's a related issue — the under-representation of females in the sector. Let's take a look at some relevant findings about women in cybersecurity and the need for more workforce diversity.

Women hold a rising percentage of jobs

People are often curious about the makeup of males versus females in cybersecurity jobs. One 2018 report showed that women account for 24% of positions in cybersecurity — a significant increase from 2017 numbers, where they only comprised 11% of the workforce in the industry. 

One of the disappointing conclusions in the study concerned salaries. When asked if they earned salaries ranging from $50,000 to $99,999, 29% of men reported they did, versus only 17% of women. 

Some other interesting cybersecurity facts from the study — especially regarding the gender-based earnings gap — were that women are more likely to hold postgraduate degrees and earned more cybersecurity certifications on average. More specifically, 52% of women have advanced degrees, compared to 44% of men. 

The report revealed that women in the field are more likely to be younger and have not worked in their roles as long as men. Those factors could partially explain the earnings discrepancy, but it's worrisome that the study showed that both women and men do the same kinds of work at their respective organizations.

Diversity leads to better decision-making

Cybersecurity necessitates making confident, effective decisions about how to keep a company's infrastructure safe. Data shows that 52% of data breaches occurred due to hacking that gave unauthorized parties access.

Hacking is only one of the problems faced by cybersecurity experts. They also must advise about the best kind of access control measures for employees, how to secure new IoT devices connected to a network and which approaches to take when training employees to recognize the latest threats. 

One study examined 588 decisions made by 184 teams in two years. It found that decision-making is the most important thing managers and executives do at work and that the task accounts for 95% of business performance. It's perhaps no surprise that the research showed how teams make better decisions than individuals 66% of the time. 

How do women in cybersecurity fit into this discussion? Statistics indicate that decisions got better as diversity increased. For example, gender-diverse teams made superior decisions 73% of the time. Then, when a group had a variety of both gender and age, they saw an 80% chance of improved choices. That percentage climbed by eight points when the people involved showed diverse age, gender, and geographic backgrounds.

This study looked at numerous industries, but the data is nonetheless relevant to the topic. Decision-making is an integral part of the jobs assumed by women in security. They work in fast-paced environments and often must make choices while under pressure. 

Fewer women compared to other industries

A statistic cited earlier showed that the percentage of women in cybersecurity is going up. That's undoubtedly a good thing but focusing on that single finding does not tell the whole story. For example, analysts examined the gender breakdown in the U.S. across all industries. It found that while women have 48% of overall jobs, that percentage plunges to 14% for females in information security roles. 

When experts expanded their perspective to the world instead of the nation during that same study, it found that men are four times more likely to have C-suite and executive positions in cybersecurity. They were also nine times more likely to work as managers than women. 

These cybersecurity facts could spark some unfortunate trends. For example, young girls who initially want to have cybersecurity careers may get discouraged due to the lack of female representation they notice, then ultimately pick another kind of work. Alternatively, if women get into the field but perceive few or no opportunities for advancement, they may find it difficult to stay motivated. 

It's not enough for companies to launch hiring efforts to bring more women into cybersecurity roles. They must also show them that they're valued and that paths for growth exist. 

No simple solution to the lack of representation

Adding to the number of women in cybersecurity will not be straightforward. However, if girls see role models in the industry and notice that companies offer ways for them to move up through the ranks, companies can spark positive, lasting changes. 

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