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Finding Mentors for Women in Cybersecurity

Six years ago, I worked in customer support for a software company specializing in International Education. On that team, there was a 50-50 gender split. 

As I’ve moved into more technical roles, I’ve noticed the gender balance has shifted to be more male dominant. In my current role as a security compliance analyst, 80 percent of the department is male. Where are all of the women with whom I started my career? 

It would be disingenuous if I were to say I haven’t felt the absence of women in this heavily male-dominated field. This gender imbalance impacts the diversity and productivity of teams, as well as a company’s ability to retain women. Existing employees and companies need to change their recruiting strategies if they hope to recruit more diverse and underutilized talent. 

Talent shortage

As an industry, cybersecurity is facing a workforce shortage. Studies indicate we need to grow the workforce by 145 percent in order to meet demand for open positions. 

This means companies cannot continue to focus the entirety of their recruitment efforts on attracting known good personnel from other companies. This doesn’t solve the shortage, it just shifts an open job requisition from one company to another while potentially increasing the expense of hiring for that position.  

If we are only hiring proven personnel already working in the industry, we’re not solving the gender and diversity imbalance. We need to reevaluate our job descriptions to ensure they accurately reflect our company needs and do not discourage potential applicants. 

How many extraneous barriers are on the wish list of requirements for your entry-level positions? Will the salary you’re offering for a position match the years of experience and certifications you’re demanding? How much on-the-job training are you willing to do? Are you reaching out to women to apply for these positions? Are you leveraging the networks of existing employees to reach more diverse candidates? 

Making a difference

From attending professional networking opportunities, to volunteering to speak in classrooms of diverse students in cybersecurity and computer science programs nearing graduation, to mentoring women, I feel the best way I can aid the industry in overcoming this gender imbalance is to leverage my time and connections to empower others and share my story.  

I was promoted from within my company and had no prior experience in cybersecurity. My previous performance with the company, personal drive, and willingness to learn were all factors in landing my current role. Within a year of being hired, I earned two industry certifications and became a member of multiple professional communities promoting women in cybersecurity and technology. 

While I cannot single-handedly solve this problem, each conversation with a student considering this field, or coworker exploring options outside of their existing role increases our pool of potential applicants. 

What if every woman and male ally in cybersecurity sought out mentoring opportunities with underrepresented groups, both internally and externally? How quickly would the numbers of applicants grow if we took the time to have these conversations with interested parties?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for the recruiting issues in cybersecurity. However, if companies do not modify their existing strategies, we will continue to exacerbate the gender imbalance and lack of diversity we’re already seeing in this field. 

As we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and wait for this problem to resolve itself, or for the perfect solution to appear, I propose we start making changes now. If you’re reading this, I challenge you to have a conversation with a woman considering a career in cybersecurity. One conversation may not change the whole world but it may change a career field. 

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