If tech leaders want to get more women into cybersecurity, they may need to pique their interest before they’re halfway through high school. A new study from Kaspersky Lab found that most young women decided against a cybersecurity career before age 16.
About 78 percent of the young women (ages 16-21) surveyed said they never even considered a career in cybersecurity. Those numbers are reflected in the field, where The Global Information Security Workforce Study from (ISC)2 found that only 11 percent of cybersecurity professionals are women.
The same study predicted that the cybersecurity workforce gap will reach 1.8 million by 2022. So, with that kind of demand for cybersecurity talent, why aren’t more women interested?
Negative Perceptions and Lack of IT Role Models Abound
While the survey found that only 16 percent of women were clear on what a cybersecurity expert does, their perceptions, enforced by stereotypes, were enough to rule out the career path.
The Kaspersky survey found that young women had negative connotations with the terminology (i.e., hacker) around cybersecurity as a whole.
Most women also said a lack of coding experience and lack of interest in computing as a career were the biggest reasons they ruled cybersecurity out.
“Early education plays a critical role in overcoming entry barriers, but there’s also a need to change the industry’s images as a whole and promote the careers within,” said Todd Helmbrecht, senior vice president of marketing of Kaspersky Lab North America, in a news release.
Stuart Madnick, a professor of information technologies and founder of the MIT Interdisciplinary Consortium for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, said in the release that colleges and industries need to better communicate what a job in cybersecurity really entails.
While tech skills can be important, Madnick indicated that “soft skills” around improving an organization’s culture and policies are a big part of improving cybersecurity.
In addition to these negative perceptions, about 42 percent of the women surveyed indicated that it is important to them to have a gender role model. With women making up such a small percentage of cybersecurity professionals, these role models are few and far in between.
So, how can businesses and universities attract more women into cybersecurity?
Reshape Cybersecurity Career Paths with Women in Mind
Some businesses have taken matters into their own hands by creating partnerships with universities to foster a diverse — and well-prepared —workforce.
Diverse: Issues in Higher Education reported that aerospace and defense firm Northrop Grumman has partnered with two University of Maryland campuses to reach out to minorities and women and make sure they are getting the same educational opportunities as their peers.
Cybersecurity programs have also found success diversifying by exploring the unexpected soft skills needed in the profession.
The Denver-based SecureSet Academy has developed a new cybersecurity path built entirely for people without a technical background, The Denver Post reports. SecureSet’s hunt analyst path will train creative analytical thinkers to work alongside security engineers, and founder Bret Fund expects that women will make up 40 to 50 percent of the enrollees.
“We anticipate that the unique mix of analytical and technical skills required of hunt analysts will create a big, bright doorway into the industry that more women will walk through relative to most other tech fields,” Fund tells the Denver Post.
Recruiting Women Could Mean Big Wins for Cybersecurity
While cybersecurity is considered the fastest growing career, nonprofit IT governance association, ISACA, has indicated that there will be a global shortage of cybersecurity professionals by 2019.
Experts say that reaching out to women might help to close this gap by tapping skilled professionals for new jobs.
“Recruiting more women into information security is a win-win,” writes Michelle Johnson Cobb, VP of worldwide marketing for Skybox Security in an article on Bizwomen. “Women are assured of an exciting, stable and cutting-edge career path, and businesses looking to stay ahead of the security curve get a much-needed source of highly educated talent.”