A Changing Field: Women in Cybersecurity 

Article written by Mani Keerthi N

According to (ISC)2 research dated 21 July 2020, women in the cybersecurity profession are committed to their roles for the long term . This is a welcoming trend and very good for the cybersecurity industry. However, the report also pointed out that women in cybersecurity still face disadvantages in terms of pay and more obstacles in the field compared to men. This means that the overall trend is positive and there are issues to be addressed to encourage more women into this field. Research from “Cybersecurity Ventures”, predicted that women would represent more than 20 percent of the global cybersecurity workforce by end of 2019.

So, this brings us to two key questions:

1. What could be the reasons for the less representation of women in the cyber workforce?
2. Why do we need more women in cybersecurity?

One of the reasons is the perception of the Cybersecurity field. It is perceived that cybersecurity jobs are always for men and we have this picture of a cybersecurity professional to be excellent in programming and network engineering . Cybersecurity is a broad field comprising of various areas such as governance, Incident response, application security, etc. Breaking that perception and creating awareness by the women in this field can help and encourage aspiring women cyber professionals to take up this field.

Also, another area that needs attention is the perception that Cybersecurity is tantamount to technical skills above others, which is not true. For example, if you are in an Incident response role, it’s the interpersonal skills, communication, and leadership skills that come into play equal to your technical expertise. We can be doing a better job of spreading this message and dismantle the notion it’s just technical skills that this field needs .

There is also an unconscious bias that women wouldn’t excel in technical jobs, which is not true.  I came across women who started off their career in Human Resources and Marketing departments and are now Cybersecurity experts. Technical skills are learned and acquired over years and that shouldn’t be the only criteria for recruiting entry-level positions in Cyber for women.

Having a woman in your cyber team brings out a different perspective to the table.  Our workforce is a combination of women and men, the attack vectors come from diverse backgrounds as well. However, if we limit our cyber team to just men, then there is a gap which we are failing to see and mitigate. The uniformity of the group of men in the team can bring out a similar or known thought process which is predictable, and it becomes very easy for attackers to exploit as they already know your approach.
Bringing in fresh perspectives as a woman in the conversations (attention to detail) can trigger innovation. For example, if we do not have diverse backgrounds in the team, there is a likely chance that we would have the same solution as before and, in a way we are limiting our scope to a set of attackers.

Few things I learned being a woman in cybersecurity:

1. Focus on Continuous Learning.  Cybersecurity is a broad field and there is so much to learn from the past and the present which helps us in preparing us for the future.
2. You might be new to a technology or heard that women cannot understand a particular technology or execute a particular task. Invest in yourself, there is nothing greater or better than improving your skills. Smaller steps can lead to bigger ones.
3. Choose a role model. The idea is to draw inspiration and be motivated to reach our goal. There are excellent women role models who are a great example of breaking the barriers and creating a name for themselves in this field. My entry into this field was inspired after going through Shon Harris lectures.
4. Always voice your opinion. There may be times where you might feel your opinion is not taken into consideration. This could be done in a subtle manner in a meeting or not being invited to a meeting because of the unconscious bias for being a woman in Cyber. However, that shouldn’t stop you from voicing your opinion.
5. Being connected with your peers. As a woman, it is common to see less women in this field. We need to make every effort to connect and engage in conversations with peer group. One way to do this is to actively engage yourself with cyber associations focused on women. This was very much helpful for me to connect with other women sharing common interests.
6. Giving back to the community. Do your part and help others, women supporting women can make a great way to build the community of cyber women. Each of us needs to do our part in building the community of women in cyber.

“There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish – Michelle Obama”.

Disclaimer: The views and thoughts are mine and do not reflect any other person.