Where opportunity knocks
Where opportunity knocks

Despite sobering statistics, women have plenty of opportunity in cybersecurity, Teri Robinson reports.

When the discussion turns to women in security, it's tempting to simply talk about what's not, the negatives, the shortcomings and the challenges.

Yes, women make up roughly half the workforce but account for only about 11 percent of cybersecurity jobs. Yes, the salary gap is still a thing with a woman typically pulling in less money than a similarly experienced man in the same position. Yes, women still get passed over for jobs and upper management positions and, yes, they still don't command the dais at industry conferences and shows in the same numbers as men.

“The 11 percent statistic is a little surprising given that the skills required for a career in cybersecurity are no way gender specific,” says Farrah Vijayan, senior technical product manager with STEALTHbits Technologies.

And Jodie Nel, marketing manager for Imago Techmedia, says, “The lack of women in senior security positions is just a reflection of the industry as a whole.”

The dismal number doesn't mean there aren't opportunities for women…and plenty of them. “There are many opportunities in the cybersecurity industry, many of them applicable to women,” May Wang, co-founder and CTO at ZingBox, tells SC Media. “These opportunities include security architecture, software programming for security, security system building, security analytics, cybercrime investigation and penetration testing.” 

OUR EXPERTS: Female power

Julia Cline, director of product management and marketing, Rubicon Labs

Jodie Nel, marketing manager, Imago Techmedia

Rekha Shenoy, VP and GM, cybersecurity, Belden
Lisa Sotto, partner, Hunton & Williams
Ayelet Steinitz, VP of business development, Imperva
Farrah Vijayan, senior technical product manager, STEALTHbits Technologies
May Wang, co-founder and CTO, ZingBox

And the industry has numerous reasons for courting women, among them a positive impact on the bottom line. “With McKinsey & Company's finding that organizations in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians,” says Vijayan, “cybersecurity stands to reap monetary gains.”

The shortage of skilled cybersecurity professionals begs for more women in the industry. “From an industry perspective, there is a cybersecurity skills shortage which opens opportunities for women as well as other underrepresented communities, says Ayelet Steinitz, vice president of business development at Imperva.

Women rising…where the jobs are

“As an insider, from my exposure of 20 years to the security sector, and having been on both the engineering side of the house as well as business development, I can wholeheartedly claim that there is no inherent reason why women shouldn't be able to participate in the cybersecurity world across the full spectrum of roles,” says Steinitz.

That spectrum includes opportunities on many fronts – from particular industries to certain sectors within security and privacy to particular positions.

“I believe industries that present as less intimidating but with significant impact naturally attract more women,” says Wang (left). “For example, privacy is an area many can relate to. It can certainly be extended to privacy of families including children. With such direct and relatable correlation, many women are motivated to work in such industries.”

Indeed, women have gravitated toward privacy. Both cybersecurity and privacy are relatively new fields, Lisa Sotto, a partner in the law firm of Hunton & Williams, points out. “Both were ripe a decade ago for women to migrate into these areas that had not been previously claimed.”

But because cybersecurity was more of a “natural fit for IT professionals, an area dominated by men, who wanted to try something different,” women were edged out, she says. They found opportunity in privacy, however, which Sotto says “has no natural fit with other areas of the law.”

Women who made their way into privacy 10 years ago are now the leaders in the field, having practiced in this area longer than anyone else, Sotto says. “First-mover advantage has been extremely effective for women in this space.”

And, says Vijayan, with the EU GDPR on the horizon ushering in the need for potentially 75,000 data privacy officers, women can make strides. “Privacy positions not only require cybersecurity, data and IT know-how, but also background in regulations and compliance,” she says. “Some of the female professionals moving into IT and cybersecurity have come from accounting and legal backgrounds so are well-versed in applying regulations to how organizations operate.”

Compliance, governance and risk management are all areas that are on the rise and are attracting women. A recent compliance trends survey from Deloitte found that 82 percent of organizations underwent enterprise-wide compliance risk assessments – with nearly two-thirds doing it annually. That opens tremendous opportunity for women looking to distinguish themselves.