Widening the field
Widening the field

The number of women in security may have stagnated, but it need not continue to do so, reports Doug Olenick.

The ongoing attempts by the government, private industry and independent organizations to boost the number of women in the cybersecurity field has basically come to naught as the number of females remains stagnant.

Only 11 percent of the cybersecurity workforce is comprised of women, according to the 22-page "2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study: Women in Cybersecurity," by Frost & Sullivan. The report was put together in conjunction with the Center for Cyber Safety Education, (ISC)2, Alta Associates and the Executive Women's Forum. This employment level remains the same as reported in 2013 and is holding steady despite the fact that the industry is screaming for help with the gap of unfilled qualified professions in the field expected to hit 1.8 million by 2022.

“Attracting women to the profession across all regions has the potential to shrink the workforce gap, but only if they can be hired, trained and retained in sufficient numbers,” the report states.

The number of women cybersecurity pros is slightly higher in North America, at 14 percent, with Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and Asia-Pacific regions all falling between five and nine percent, the report found.

What is particularly shocking is that the female participation rate stayed steady in an industry that saw its membership increase almost 41 percent and that women now comprise the majority of the college graduates in the United States.

Joyce Brocaglia, CEO, Alta Associates, founder, Executive Women's Forum
Limor Kessem, executive security adviser, IBM Security
Shamla Naidoo, global CISO, IBM
Lynn Terwoerds, executive director, Executive Women's Forum
Shelley Westman, SVP, alliances and field operations, Protegrity

However, the number of women in security is not the only thing that is stagnant and causing women to either not enter or leave the industry. Outdated corporate employment practices that do not include women on the interview panel is one problem, but this is made worse by what can only be called Neanderthal-level behavior by some of the men that are already in the field who continue to treat their female counterparts improperly: The report cited that 51 percent of women interviewed said they had endured some form of discrimination in the cybersecurity workforce.

“The stagnation is not only caused by the lack of women entering the industry, but the real problem is women are not progressing into leadership roles and are opting out,” says Lynn Terwoerds, executive director of the Executive Women's Forum.

Many women – and the cybersecurity industry – face an uphill battle even before a woman lands a job, with many female students being pressured to find another career due to their parents' belief that a STEM career is not something a woman should pursue.

“First, there are still deep-seated stereotypes about the kinds of jobs that are appropriate for men versus women,” says Shelley Westman, senior vice president, alliances and field operations at Protegrity. "Many parents unconsciously may be steering girls away from difficult jobs in math and science. I have spoken with many young women who tell me they were discouraged by their parents and others from a career in STEM."