How to Include More Women In The Security Industry

Female students' achievement in mathematics and science is on par with their male peers and female students participate in high level mathematics and science courses at similar rates as their male peers, with the exception of computer science and engineering.

 - NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2018

Co-Authored by Lisa Kendall, CyberSN and Katie Perry, Technium


Where we are now

By now, it’s widely known that cybersecurity is a male-dominated field with the most generous estimates saying that we might have 24% women in our workforce. After half a decade of intensive effort to increase the level of equality among the genders in the security profession, we are still falling woefully short. A survey of 1000 girls aged 13-17 from April 2020 revealed that Interest in tech and STEM careers is actively falling among girls, with just 9 percent interested in careers in STEM (down from 11% two years ago). In 2018, only 18% of computer science grads were women. It’s clear that more drastic measures are needed to balance the scales. Meanwhile, over the last 10 years, the gender balance of the veterinary industry literally flipped upside-down, going from 80% men - to 80% women! Let’s explore the factors that contributed to that happening, and see if there are any lessons to help improve the gender balance in cybersecurity.

Factors that influenced an Increase in women in the Veterinary Industry

With the passage of Title IX in 1972, college admission restrictions based on gender were eliminated at universities and colleges. Soon after, the rate of women entering the veterinary field began to increase. After that, the balance of men vs. women began to “feminize” resulting in the rates of inclusion swapping places! Men’s desire to pursue careers that offered more autonomy, an increase in female role models, and the portrayal of veterinarians as carers in social and pop culture are all speculated to be reasons why less men and more women began entering the field. Also, scientific developments in sedatives for large animals have made this career field more realistic for women veterinarians as demand is high for those who can service livestock and large farm animals. The increase in female role models in the veterinary field is another contributing factor. The portrayal of women in TV and movies, for example "The Big Bang Theory", a leading CBS sitcom, featured a love interest character who was a female veterinarian. This is a great example of how representation matters. When young women see it, they know they can become it.

Another social issue plaguing our cyber workforce is the topic of work/life balance. The veterinary field, like the cybersecurity field, is a 24x7 job. Patient care, like user services or outage alarms, don’t often conveniently happen during business hours. By creating options like part-time work and split shifts, the veterinary field was able to give more dynamic work options to their practitioners. This type of employment model, where the employee has more control over their schedule and number of hours, could also help to subvert another major issue in cybersecurity: burn out! When 91% of CISOs report feeling constant burnout, you know there is a deep-rooted issue with work/life balance that needs to be addressed. This contributes greatly to the cybersecurity talent shortage because who would volunteer for a job that is all but guaranteed to run them ragged in a few years? It’s not good for the people in our community, and it’s not good PR for the recruiting efforts that we need to enact as a profession.

How can the security community appeal to women in the workforce using the same techniques as the vets?

  • Highlight and showcase the women in IT and security with whom you work or know. Showing that women are already in the space will help bring others into it.
  • Participate and support more women-led security/IT events, forums and businesses. If your company wants to improve the gender diversity of your workforce, supporting well-established events and groups will further brand your company and develop a connection.
  • Adapt a work schedule that accounts for the working parent. This was a driver for the vet industry - the ability to make one’s own schedule.
  • Allow employees to work from home and use tools that encourage and enable collaborative remote work.
  • Develop job descriptions that appeal to culture, training opportunities and a sense of helping. Men and women think differently, and the way you write job descriptions will greatly affect which gender applies to it.
  • Then offer an environment to match that great description. Retention happens every day and offering employees an understanding and welcoming workplace is always a winning management strategy.