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STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) offer some of the fastest-growing and best-paying careers. However, these fields tend to lack racial and gender diversity.
Long-term research tends to exclude nonbinary genders and conflate gender terms (e.g., "woman") with terms for sex (e.g., "female"). That said, data indicates that while women make up nearly half of STEM workers as a whole, they remain underrepresented in cybersecurity.
Women compose only 25% of the computer-related workforce, according to Pew Research Center. Similarly, industry experts estimate that by the end of 2021, women will fill 25% of all cybersecurity positions.
Increasing women's representation in cybersecurity can lead to promising careers for women in this growing sector. A more diverse workforce can also help the industry by providing a variety of perspectives and problem-solving ideas.
The tech field needs more resources to encourage and support historically excluded groups, like women, in their tech pursuits. This guide explores the benefits of diversity in tech and opportunities for women in cybersecurity.
A Brief History of Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity professionals protect computer systems from attacks by malicious actors. Cybersecurity got its start in the 1970s, when researchers created Creeper, the first computer worm, and Reaper, the first antivirus software.
Commercial antivirus programs emerged in the 1980s. The 1990s and 2000s saw a rise in professional cyberattacks. Since then, as society has come to rely on computers for many aspects of everyday life, threats to information security have multiplied.
The U.S. lost more than $4 billion due to cyberattacks in 2020. As cyberattacks become more common, demand for workers with cybersecurity expertise will likely grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects above-average job growth (33%) for information security analysts between 2020 and 2030.
Men far outnumber women in cybersecurity, reflecting trends in the IT field. Only 19% of computer science bachelor's degrees went to women in 2017-18, up just 1% since 2014.
Women in information security made up only 11% of the workforce in 2013. This number has since increased to 25%. However, seeing as women make up 47% of STEM workers overall, cybersecurity still has a long way to go.
Notably, these statistics fail to include nonbinary genders. Research also tends to conflate the terms "woman" and "female." Even with these shortcomings, data clearly indicates that women lack representation in cybersecurity, despite some recent improvements.
Diversity in Cybersecurity
Men still disproportionately outnumber women in cybersecurity. However, shifting demographics may create more gender, racial, and ethnic diversity in the field.
A 2018 report from (ISC)² found that ethnic and racial minorities in cybersecurity made up 26% of the sector’s workforce. This is 5% more representation than these groups see in the U.S. workforce as a whole.
Despite being highly educated, workers from racial and ethnic minority groups hold fewer cybersecurity management positions than the national average. Moreover, females of color earn significantly less than others in the field.
The cybersecurity industry is notoriously dominated by men. Likewise, this industry requires advanced technical skills. As such, some women may assume that they would not like working in cybersecurity. Companies can change this by making cybersecurity a more welcoming field, offering opportunities for success to people from historically excluded groups.
Benefits to Having More Women in Technology
Diversity in tech offers many benefits. Including more varied viewpoints, life experiences, and problem-solving strategies can lead to innovation. In fact, a 2018 study found that companies with above-average diversity in management reported 19% more revenue than those with below-average management diversity.
Companies lacking women's representation on their cybersecurity teams are losing out on a huge pool of talent. Demand for skilled cybersecurity professionals is outpacing supply. This makes obvious the benefits of growing the talent pool. Companies that want to stay competitive should focus on hiring and promoting women in cybersecurity.
Benefits to Sectors and Industries
Address the Labor Shortage: Encouraging diversity in tech can help address the labor shortage in cybersecurity. If more women pursue cybersecurity careers, industries that need these professionals may benefit from a larger pool of talent.
Stimulate Innovation and Creativity: Employing a diverse workforce can lead to more creativity and innovation. This helps industries move forward and develop new technologies, in turn generating larger profits.
Benefits to Companies and Teams
Having more women in cybersecurity benefits companies of all types and sizes. Companies with stronger women's representation can also benefit individual teams.
Diverse Viewpoints: Women bring perspectives that often differ from men's. As such, teams representing both these genders may access new ways of thinking and confronting obstacles.
Learning Opportunities: Companies with a diverse workforce give employees an opportunity to learn about people different from themselves. This can contribute to better understanding about other cultures, races, and genders.
Better Support for Women in the Industry: Encouraging more women in cybersecurity can create better environments for current and future women in the field. These professionals can find potential role models, connect with mentors, and feel less isolated.
How More Opportunities in Tech Benefit Women
Above-Average Salaries: Earning a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity can open the door to lucrative jobs. Payscale reports that graduates with a BS in cybersecurity earned $73,000 on average as of December 2021.
Job Security: The BLS projects rapid job growth for information security analysts between 2020 and 2030. As cyberattacks increase and more organizations rely on cloud services, the demand for cybersecurity professionals will likely rise.
Sense of Accomplishment: Because so few women work in cybersecurity, those who build careers in the field may feel a strong sense of personal accomplishment. It can take hard work and perseverance, but it can feel good to prove there is a place for women in technology.
Career and Salary Outlook for Women in Cybersecurity
Women in cybersecurity can pursue in-demand careers earning above-average salaries. A fast-growing, high-paying field, cybersecurity could be a smart career choice for anyone seeking a stable job with room to advance.
Demand for cybersecurity professionals outpaces supply. For example, the BLS projects a 33% job growth (much faster than average) from 2020-2030 for information security analysts. Cybersecurity professionals may advance into roles like security consultant or chief security officer by gaining experience, pursuing higher education, and earning certifications.
Information security analysts earned a median annual salary of $103,590 as of May 2020, significantly exceeding the national median of $41,950. STEM workers across the board earn more than people in other occupations. However, women in technology earn less than men in equivalent roles across all ethnic and racial groups.
The pay gap between men and women in tech is one of several potential challenges to women in cybersecurity.
Median Annual Salary
Challenges Women Face When They're Interested in Tech
Women in cybersecurity face challenges encountered less often by men. These experiences can act as barriers that keep women from pursuing a career in the field.
- Salary Discrepancies: A 2018 report found that women of color in cybersecurity earned an average salary of $115,000. White men in the field earned $124,000 on average. Men of color and white women earned $121,000 on average, making women of color the field's lowest earners.
- Gender Bias and Discrimination: Women in cybersecurity report both overt and unconscious discrimination in the workplace. Women say they experience unexplained denials or delays to career advancement, exaggerated highlighting of mistakes, and tokenism more often than men in cybersecurity.
- Few Women Role Models: Because of the low representation of women in IT, especially in management positions, women may struggle to imagine themselves succeeding in cybersecurity. They may also have more trouble finding mentors.
Closing the Gender Gap
Closing the gender gap and increasing diversity in tech and cybersecurity is critical. There is already a shortage of cybersecurity professionals. The demand for skilled tech workers will likely continue to increase. Women can help meet this demand to keep the world's data and information safe.
Women in cybersecurity also benefit as individuals, as the field offers stable jobs paying high salaries. Initiatives to support women in technology can stimulate more gender diversity in the most advanced leadership and management positions.
Increasing the number of women in cybersecurity also benefits the field by bringing more perspectives, creativity, and innovation. Diverse perspectives can enrich the tech industry and improve information security.
Initiatives to Create Gender Diversity in Tech
Many initiatives aim to improve women's representation in cybersecurity.
Getting more women in tech careers starts with education. Nonprofit groups, foundations, and companies offer scholarships for women in cybersecurity. These encourage women to study tech subjects. Read on for a list of women in cybersecurity scholarships.
Professional organizations for women in cybersecurity work to increase women's representation in tech. Groups like Women in Cybersecurity and Women's Society of Cyberjutsu offer training and mentorship programs. These programs offer professional development opportunities to help women in cybersecurity advance in their careers.
Professional groups for women in cybersecurity also provide networking events, conferences, and career resources. Read on to learn about some of the best organizations promoting women in cybersecurity.
Professional Organizations for Women in Cybersecurity
- Women in Cybersecurity: Created in 2012,Women in Cybersecurity strives to attract, retain, and advocate for women in the field. Members access professional development programs, career fairs, and conferences.
- Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu: A nonprofit group trying to close the gender gap in cybersecurity, WSC publicizes the need for women in cybersecurity. The organization offers training events, webinars, local chapters, and career resources.
- Executive Women's Forum on Information Security, Risk Management, and Privacy: The EWF advances women in tech through education and professional development. Members gain access to a private social network, leadership opportunities, and an annual conference.
- Women CyberSecurity Society: This is Canada's only nonprofit group for women in cybersecurity. The group offers benefits like mentoring, hands-on learning, and volunteer opportunities.
- She Secures: She Secures helps women in cybersecurity meet career goals. The organization coordinates mentorship sessions, internship opportunities, and networking events.
Scholarships for Women Interested in Tech
- Parisa Tabriz PrinSWIS Scholarship: Created by a Google employee, this women in cybersecurity scholarship goes to women in their junior or senior year or a master's program. Applicants must major in information security.
- Rebecca Gurley Bace SWSIS Scholarship: This women in cybersecurity scholarship honors the memory of the "den mother of cybersecurity." Applicants must be women students majoring in information security.
- Infosec Accelerate Women Scholarship: This scholarship includes lifetime access to Infosec Skills. Applicants must be women pursuing cybersecurity careers and U.S. residents.
- KnowBe4 Women in Cybersecurity Scholarship: This women in cybersecurity scholarship invites applications from women pursuing cybersecurity degrees. Applicants need a minimum 3.3. GPA and must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
- (ISC)² Women's Scholarships: This women in tech scholarship program offers up to 10 awards worth $1,000-$5,000. Applicants must be planning to or actively pursuing a cybersecurity degree and hold a minimum 3.3 GPA.
Educational Opportunities in Cybersecurity
Frequently Asked Questions About Women in Cybersecurity
What is the percentage of women in cybersecurity?
Industry experts project that women in cybersecurity will make up 25% of the sector's global workforce by the end of 2021. This number highlights women's continued underrepresentation in the field, but it marks a 5% increase since 2019.
Why are there less women in cybersecurity than men?
Many factors contribute to women's lack of representation in cybersecurity. Reasons include gender bias, pay discrepancies, small numbers of women who earn computer-related degrees, and fewer women in leadership positions to serve as role models.
Are the demographics in cybersecurity changing?
Yes, cybersecurity is slowly including more women. Women in cybersecurity composed just 20% of the workforce in 2019, compared to an estimated 25% by the end of 2021.
Why is diversity in tech important?
Diversity in tech helps people from historically excluded groups access in-demand, high-paying jobs. Diversity can also increase innovation, creativity, and revenue for companies. Encouraging diversity in cybersecurity can help address the field's labor shortage.
Angelique Geehan works to support and repair the connections people have with themselves and their families, communities, and cultural practices. A queer, Asian, gender binary-nonconforming parent, Geehan founded Interchange, a consulting group that offers anti-oppression support. She organizes as part of several groups, including the National Perinatal Association's Health Equity Workgroup, the Health and Healing Justice Committee of the National Queer and Trans Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance, QTPOC+ Family Circle, and Batalá Houston.
Angelique Geehan is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.
Page Last Reviewed Dec. 1, 2021
Featured Image: Maskot / Maskot / Getty Images
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