Dr. Jane LeClair By Dr. Jane LeClair • September 7, 2018

Why There Are So Few Women and Minorities in Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing fields in today’s job market, and with good reason. Hardly a week goes by without an announcement that some business or government agency has been hacked and data has been stolen. Organizations are actively seeking skilled cybersecurity professionals to defend their networks. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of these professionals to fill the vacant seats in IT departments. By some estimates, there are currently more than 300,000 job vacancies in cybersecurity in the U.S. and the demand will greatly increase by the end of the decade. Pay in the field is lucrative – often approaching $175,000 to $200,000 per year – and the future job growth is bright for those seeking employment in the field. 

Surprisingly, there are few women and minorities in the cybersecurity industry. Statistics indicate while women make up more than 50 percent of the workforce, less than 10 percent of cybersecurity professionals are women and less than 5 percent are minorities. With so many opportunities in the field, one has to wonder why women and minorities are so poorly represented and not drawn to this lucrative field. The reasons for this situation are many, but they generally fall into three categories centering on family, the educational system and in the workplace.

The Problems Women and Minorities Face in Cybersecurity

At home and in school, young girls and minorities are often guided into traditional roles that do not include the sciences and technology. In the education environment, women and minorities often receive inadequate guidance counseling that steers them away from STEM. Women and minorities that venture into STEM often find the playing field unbalanced and are faced with inattention from teachers, dominance by males in the classroom, lack of role models and peer pressure that paints those in STEM as ‘geeks.’ Women or minorities that do succeed in STEM and enter the workforce may find pay inequity, poor paths to promotion, harassment and a negative working environment. Add to this the pressure of balancing household and family responsibilities, and it is no wonder the retention rates for cybersecurity positions are low. 

Is there a solution? 

There are no simple solutions to these issues, but we can begin to rectify the situation by acknowledging that the problem exists, recognizing the areas that need to be addressed and working to reverse the situation. At home, parents need to allow their children to explore outside the traditional box and show them that there is a vast world of opportunities that await them. In the educational system, guidance counselors need to put aside their preconceptions and encourage young women and minorities to seek STEM careers. Teachers need to encourage their female and minority students, provide equal opportunities for expression and continuously provide role models. In the workplace, employers that are in need for skilled cyber professionals should make every effort to hire and retain women and minorities in IT departments and then maintain a welcoming environment for them. This can be accomplished with pay equity, equal paths to promotion along with a gender and ethnic friendly work environment. Somehow, a culture shift needs to take place.

Cyberattacks are not going away; in fact, they will continue to escalate in terms of frequency and sophistication increasing the need for more skilled professionals in the field. The vast pool of knowledge that women and minorities can bring to the field can help mitigate this dilemma.

Dr. Jane LeClair

Written by Dr. Jane LeClair

Dr. Jane LeClair is the president of the Washington Center for Cybersecurity Research and Development, and consults on cybersecurity programming at Thomas Edison State University. She has previously served as the Chief Operating Officer for the National Cybersecurity Institute. Dr. LeClair holds an MS in Cybersecurity and an EdD in Adult Education.

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