When it comes to the numbers of women in cybersecurity, we’ve got good news and bad news.
The good news is that women are well represented in on-screen hacker dramas. Nomi in Sense8, Chen Lien in Blackhat, and Lisbeth Salandar in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo all portray tech-savvy female hackers to their legions of fans around the world.
The bad news? In real life, women hold only 11% of cybersecurity jobs. That’s more than a social problem of gender imbalance. It’s reducing the numbers of candidates to fill the estimated 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs estimated to be unfilled in 2021. Plus, it means that half of computer users are not represented in the cybersecurity space - causing a potential problem in both corporate and national security.
While this might seem like another women-are-underrepresented-in-technology beef, it’s more than that. Women fill 17% of general tech jobs. While that number is low, it still bests cybersecurity by more than 50%.
Why is cybersecurity such a male-dominated career?
Many factors contribute to the gender gap in technology-related jobs. One survey shows that 51% of women in cybersecurity roles in North America and Latin American claim to have faced discrimination while only 15% of men said the same.
Garden-variety cybersecurity may hold women and their wages back in the profession, but women themselves need to step up earlier. Only 18% of computer science, engineering, and physics degrees awarded in the US go to women. Plus, 56% of women in technology drop out of the profession at midpoint.
Women with degrees in diverse fields can, however, enter the cybersecurity workforce at nearly age with proper training and certification. But will they be accepted?
How do different cultures view women and men in cybersecurity?
When divided up by continent, the numbers around women in cybersecurity may surprise you. In North America, women comprise 14% of cybersecurity’s workforce - the largest percentage of any continent. Asia-Pacific is next at 10% followed by Africa at 9%, Latin America at 8%, Europe at 7%, and the Middle East at just 5%. Are these numbers representative of larger cultural assumptions about the role of women in defense technology?
More broadly, could the hacker culture simply be more attractive to men than women? After all, the image of a bearded man in a hoodie chugging energy drinks and vodka in a dark basement still dominates cybersecurity. And many firms recruit their cyber crime techs using imagery and language based on a militarized version of hacking and information security investigations. These marketing products typically appeal to men more than women.
Do women not envision cybersecurity careers due to larger cultural values, the hacker brand, or because it doesn’t hold their interest? Should most women consider a cybersecurity career if it’s so imbalanced?
In fact, what are the pros and cons of a cybersecurity career for women?
Anyone - regardless of gender, race, creed, color, or national origin - who loves and understands technology can benefit from a cybersecurity career. It’s one of the fastest-growing, most stable, and most lucrative vocational fields available. Still, women experience different benefits and drawbacks from cyber defense professions than men do.
- Women bring a distinct view to cybersecurity roles that complements men’s views.
- Many cybersecurity professionals of all genders find the work deeply satisfying - both intellectually and emotionally.
- The gender gap offers women a chance to be role models for girls in a burgeoning industry.
- Do you lack interest in cybersecurity? If so, stop now. The only reason not to choose cybersecurity as a profession is a desire to do something else. Cybersecurity is a well-paying, flexible field with zero percent unemployment, but if you don’t love it, find something you do enjoy.
Outside of fiction, who are some famous female hackers or cybersecurity leaders?
- Agnes Meyer Driscoll - Perhaps the most gifted cryptanalyst ever, Agnes served during World War I and World War II. She enlisted in the US Navy in 1918 and continued until 1949 except for a two year break. During much of that time, Agnes was the Navy’s chief cryptanalyst. She went on to serve in the Armed Forces Security Agency and the National Security Agency. After her death in 1971, the US military buried Agnes at Arlington National Cemetery.
- Raven Adler - Showing a prodigious skill at academics, Raven graduated from high school at age 14 and college at age 18. She gained notoriety as the first woman to speak at Defcon, the world’s greatest hacker conference. Today, Raven focuses on end-to-end data security, serving as a researcher, writer, and security consultant to top companies and federal agencies.
- Tracy Z. Maleeff - After earning her master’s degree in library science, Tracy served as an academic librarian before spending 10 years as a law firm librarian. Technology, however, was her passion. She signed up for a Girl Develop It class, found she loved cybersecurity, and decided to enter the field. Today, she owns a cybersecurity firm. About making the change, Tracy says, “The librarian world is mostly female, so that was a big culture shock for me…. My experience in security has been positive. Plenty of my male colleagues have been very helpful in educating me and encouraging me.”
How can women start a career in cybersecurity?
Still in high school or middle school? Consider exploring cybersecurity through a specialized tech camp for girls. If you’re in high school or have recently graduated from college, consider taking a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in cybersecurity.
What about future white hat hackers and computer forensics technicians who can’t go back to school? Certification is key. In fact, regardless of your academic background, certification may be the most important step you can take to advance your cybersecurity career. For entry-level cybersecurity techs, Security+ is a great start. Once you’ve decided on a career track, CISSP is a good certificate choice for management, CEH for offensive security, and CND for defensive security.
Since the women-to-men ratio in cybersecurity remains weighted toward men, women have an amazing opportunity to lead the way toward closing the gender gap and wage gap by assuming new cybersecurity roles today.