Lockheed Martin holds a Sustaining Women in STEM conference in March 2016. Today’s columnist, Ralitsa Miteva of OneSpan, says even with all the progress, the industry must do a better job attracting women into STEM and cyber careers.

Cybersecurity has become a top priority for businesses. Even before the pandemic, there was a push to put move cyber preparedness up the priority list and into the C-suite. The move to an almost fully-digital enterprise has pushed cyber even more to the forefront, uncovering growing concerns around evolving threats and a tremendous shortage of skilled professionals. The skills gap that existed before the pandemic has tripled in size – there’s an even greater need to protect those working outside of the corporate firewall, in addition to an increased demand to transact completely digitally.

The growing gap can shrink if we develop a model for inclusion looking at diversity and gender. For example, we still see a disparity in the number of women who hold roles in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce, and the National Girls Collaborative Project found that men outnumber women in these positions by 72 percent.

In honor of National Women’s History Month, I’d like to highlight a few of my own observations about the inherent perception and opportunity for women in cybersecurity, why women make great fraud detection analysts, and how organizations can lower the barrier of entry for women to start a career in cybersecurity.

Why women can make it in tech

While women have made significant traction when it comes to making their mark in cybersecurity, women in the field are still fighting for recognition as industry experts as opposed to being considered a “woman in cybersecurity or tech.” The gender disparity within the cybersecurity industry persists, as ISC2 reports women make up just 25 percent of the workforce, much less than half. This disparity has resulted in a limited pool of women networking with one another, creating less awareness of job opportunities in the cybersecurity sector, as well as the qualifications required for different positions in the field.

When women are hired for a role, companies take into consideration the gender balance at their organization. For example, if the organization does not have a gender balance, women are more likely to face stereotypes and must prove that they were hired based on skillset and not because they improve diversity numbers for the organization.

Men do not face the same gender disparity that women face, and men are less likely to receive questions about gender being a factor in their hiring. Therefore, even once women are hired, depending on the organization, they could face a longer road to build a good reputation and credibility in a field that’s more heavily dominated by men.

Strong fraud detection teams require diversity   

Women have increasingly stepped into fraud detection roles over the past decade. We see more women taking fraud analyst positions, in which they analyze trends and patterns to define and identify anomalous or malicious behaviors. Fraud analysts need psychological skills oriented, and research by the National Institutes of Health shows that women are more empathetic and can predict the behavior of others more readily.

In fraud detection, having an analytical skill set helps the analyst understand the behavior of the person on the other side of a transaction. These skills are extremely useful when anti-fraud teams analyze the actions of potential fraudsters. Fraud analysts also must pay attention to detail so they can evaluate various sources of information at the same time to provide precise analysis.

Twenty percent of new talent entering the cybersecurity industry come from an industry outside of cybersecurity. Because there’s no strict demand for specific technical credentials that typically exist in the tech industry, we can develop the right competencies of the fraud analyst by teaching them fraud methodologies and vulnerabilities, typical scenarios, and the right detection approaches. This, in turn, will help more women apply and receive consideration for roles in cybersecurity.

Women have a bright future in cyber  

Looking ahead, I would like to share a few pieces of advice for organizations and women to create a more equal gender balance within the industry.

As the skills required for roles in cybersecurity are diverse, organizations should always make qualifications and competencies a priority over gender when it comes to the hiring process. Over time, working with smart and capable women will impact the perception of the rest of the employees and stem the tide of the gender imbalance as well as fill the increasing talent shortage in the cybersecurity industry.

Women need to highlight their qualities as sharp, reliable, and ambitious individuals. Even when they are the only female in the room, they should give their opinions readily, take the lead, and speak up. Women should seek out mentors within their organization, which helps build relationships and increase visibility with top stakeholders at the organization. In addition, seek out male colleagues to become allies with – as they are also instrumental in advocating to help champion women within their organizations. As more men advocate for gender equality, the future of cybersecurity will look brighter as we continue to create an equal playing field and stem the gender divide. 

Remember that while gender stereotypes may persist as long as the gender balance exists, with perseverance, we will disprove them.

Ralitsa Miteva, fraud detection and protection solutions manager, OneSpan