Millennial survey shows widening gap between young men, women in cyber career aspirations

The gap between the number of young men and young women in the U.S. considering a career in internet security yawns five times bigger than it did last year.
The gap between the number of young men and young women in the U.S. considering a career in internet security yawns five times bigger than it did last year.

The shortage of talent to fill cybersecurity positions will likely persist since young adults around the globe are wholly uninterested in cybersecurity careers and the gap between the number of young men and young women in the U.S. considering a career in internet security yawns five times bigger than it did last year, according to a study from Raytheon and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA).

The results of the annual study of millennials, Securing Our Future: Closing the Cyber Talent Gap, seemed to indicate that young women might not be privy to the same networking opportunities. Women were half as likely as men to have spoken with a cybersecurity pro, the study found. “It seems it has to do a bit with culture,” Michael Daly, Cyber chief technology officer (CTO) at Raytheon, told SCMagazine.com. “When asked whether they had been made aware of cyber opportunities [by educators and other adults], 47 percent of men said they had been made aware and only 33 percent of women said they had.”

That's disheartening in particular for cybersecurity where diversity is critical. “Cyber more than any other industry is dependent on diversity to find solutions,” said Daly. “Without diversity you can't possibly find solutions for all the different people and the ways they use and store data.”

Even among those young people interested in pursuing a cyber career, the tools or exposure that they need to develop skills that will carry them remained elusive – only 60 percent said a computer was introduced to their classrooms by age nine.

And, the study found that the young people surveyed were woefully unaware of cyber attacks.  “One the things that jumped out was that 67 percent of young adults haven't heard any cyber attacks in the last year,” said Daly, adding that while “these are people who should know” about breaches, they are also just outside the age range of adults that might be concerned about them. “Part of it is that it's after that age that you start to develop personal credit” and become aware of the security of information.

The report, conducted by Zogby Analytics, surveyed nearly 4,000 adults between 18-26 spanning four global regions.

Daly also said that young adults might have a misguided notion that cyber pros are hyper-bright oddballs because that's the way they're portrayed on TV and they just might not understand some of the skills they're already interested in are crucial to becoming a cyber pro. “It's good to note that although young folks are not exposed to cyber, they are interested in the same skillsets such as programming and data analytics,” he said.

To ramp up both awareness and skills in young adults, Daly said “we should start talking about it in the school curriculum when they're younger and we have to reach their parents as well, the adults shaping [their career choices] with them.”

Despite growing curiosity about cyber careers, many young adults indicate their education and networking opportunities are not keeping pace with their needs. For example, only 60 percent of survey respondents say a computer was introduced to their classrooms by age nine. Additionally, women appear to be disadvantaged when it comes to networking opportunities, as men were twice as likely as women to have spoken with a cybersecurity professional, according to the study.

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