Women Belong in Cyber Security; So What’s Keeping Them Out?

CyberWire held a panel comprised of five cybersecurity leading ladies at the Women in Cybersecurity event on October 10, 2022. The panel was introduced by Jennifer Eiben, the senior producer at CyberWire and a founder of the event. The following panelists shared their thoughts on the hidden impact of cybersecurity’s talent gap on the cyber-enabled community:

  • Simone Petrella, Panel Moderator – President and CEO at CyberVista
  • Davida Gray – Director of human resources at MindPoint Group
  • Kyla Guru – founder and CEO at Bits N’ Bytes Cybersecurity Education
  • Amy Mushahwar – partner on the privacy, cyber, and data strategy team at Alston & Bird Law Firm
  • Jennifer Walsmith – Corporate Vice President, Cyber and Information Solutions at Northrop Grumman

At 51% of the general population, women only make up 25% of the cybersecurity profession. The cybersecurity industry is teeming with hundreds of thousands of job openings, and the need for more professionals grows every year. There is a shortage of cybersecurity talent in every sector. Each panelist discussed why women are so vastly underrepresented in the cybersecurity industry and shared their unique perspectives on narrowing the gap. The panelists were each at very different points in their careers, with widely varied backgrounds, but all came with nuanced and insightful perspectives about bringing more women into cybersecurity roles. The most unifying of all of their perspectives – empowering women to go into the male-dominated field of cybersecurity and challenging the industry to appeal to women. The most provocative message of all of the panelists is that it wasn’t necessarily an interest in computers or computer science that led them to down a cybersecurity career path, but it was their interest in people, the human aspect, that pointed them in the direction of cybersecurity. 

You can read the full transcript here, and explore our summary of their major points ahead:

Women belong in cybersecurity. Here’s why.

Women were the first coders. Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer. Margaret Hamilton programmed Apollo’s flight software (SecurityBoulevard). Women belong in cybersecurity. Here is what the panelists had to say:

  • Women can fill the cybersecurity talent gaps in every industry. There are a whopping 769,736 total cybersecurity job listings in the US (Cyberseek.) There have been 1,108,725 employed in cybersecurity-related jobs from October 2021 through September 2022, with less than 24% of that workforce being women. Further, to meet the security challenges faced by cybersecurity teams and organizations everywhere, the cybersecurity workforce will need to grow by 65% in the coming year or so (SecurityBoulevard). Men are not filling these roles adequately, yet men are primarily the demographic setting out to work in these industries. We All Need Women To Fill The Gaps. The defense of all organizations everywhere, from universities to government agencies and everywhere in between, depends on this. 
  • The cybersecurity industry can greatly benefit from women’s intuitive natures, their ability to look at the big picture while remaining detail oriented, and their capacity for multi-tasking. These are all qualities that cannot be taught and are very well suited to the field of cyber security. 
  • Any background can be a springboard for a career in cyber security, whether legal, educational, design, or engineering. Technology and security components can be built into any field. Not only that, soft skills such as meeting deadlines, problem-solving, and flexibility are all inherently part of a cybersecurity job. If you have these skills, you’re a great candidate for any career related to cyber security. 
  • More women in cybersecurity will create a safer internet for women, and everyone else. 

Why women are historically absent from cybersecurity roles.

  • We are served a stereotype that paints cybersecurity jobs as, well, not very female-friendly. To that end, there are very few, if any, examples of women in cybersecurity roles in media and pop culture. 
  • Entry-level positions in cybersecurity often come with the requirement of five-plus years of experience. 
  • In a 24/7 response industry, women assume they will be unable to raise families while managing a career in cyber security. 
  • Women often consider having to get security clearances a barrier.

How can women break into the cybersecurity industry?

Cybersecurity can be pursued at any time by anyone. Do not count yourself out of the field of cybersecurity just because it is a technical field, or because it sometimes requires security clearances. Women belong in technical fields. Have courage and confidence that the technical skills will come with training and experience. There are a plethora of nontraditional career paths that lend themselves well to cybersecurity. Some may not even require a college degree. And there are cybersecurity jobs available with varying degrees of security clearance needed, some not at all. Some can be worked towards later. Be creative, form a network, and always speak up for yourself. There are high-paying jobs out there that you may already be well equipped for, you just need to seek out the guidance and training to go after them.

What can organizations do to close the gap?

Offer Training and Resources for Development. Organizations need to be willing to train on the job and consider hiring people who may not have the technical background but are adaptable. Professional development, certification opportunities, and emphasis on the internal development of institutional knowledge are not only great for employees but just good business sense. 

Embrace diversity. And not just to look good on paper. Diversity in thought, experience, and background helps cybersecurity teams approach problems differently and more effectively. “Women bring different perspectives and experiences to the cybersecurity table. This can help combat the diverse background of cyber adversaries. Teams with both male and female perspectives make better business decisions 73% of the time” (SecurityBoulevard). 

Mentorship is key. Having women at every level in an organization, with cohorts of mentors and allies from women and men at all levels, is the key to pulling women in and keeping them throughout their tenure. Women need to see and learn from other women, at all levels, orchestrating their lives alongside their cybersecurity career, especially in such a male-dominated industry. 

Conferences, Grassroots, and Sponsorships – Girls Who Code, Black Girls CODE, PrivaShe, RIT’s Women in Computing Hackathon, GirlCon – the existence of events and organizations like these signal to girls and young women that they have what it takes to explore a career in tech. That they belong in tech. Many of these organizations and events are operating at a grassroots level and are heavily reliant on sponsorships. Organizations, no matter their size, can provide sponsorships that allow more girls from grade school through college to attend these events and provide prize money to fund their projects (many of which are solving a direct problem or addressing a community need). Encouraging girls at younger ages increases the likelihood of them pursuing a career in cyber or information security when they enter the workforce. This can also be a great way for organizations to scout future talent.

Women can launch their cybersecurity careers at Cyber Phoenix

With cyber security roles becoming increasingly necessary in every industry (and everyday life!), the skills you can learn at Cyber Phoenix are invaluable. Cyber Phoenix offers business and technical courses that can set your career on a better path and start learning for as little as $8 per month. With an affordable subscription, you can learn technical, management, and cyber skills that you can apply in your current job, use to move up in your company or switch careers altogether. Women belong in cyber security and women belong at Cyber Phoenix. We can’t wait to help you soar to new heights and experience the excitement a career in cyber security has to offer. Your confidence to speak up and reach out starts today. 




Security Boulevard