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Why We Need More Women in the Field of Cybersecurity

Lesley Carhart

Principal Threat Analyst, Dragos, Inc.

Like many STEM fields, cybersecurity is an industry where women are vastly underrepresented. According to recent data, women make up only about 20 percentof the cybersecurity workforce. 

Diverse perspectives are vitally important in cybersecurity, and the industry is already facing a major workforce shortage while the job market continues to grow. Therefore, it is vitally important to attract as many professionals to the industry as possible. 

Lesley Carhart, named a Top Woman in Cybersecurity by Cyberscoop in 2017, is a principal threat analyst at the industrial cybersecurity company Dragos, Inc., and a widely recognized industry leader. In an interview, Carhart explains why the industry is growing so quickly, as well as the particular challenges she faced as a woman in the field. 

She says that she experienced the kind of roadblocks most people would expect women in STEM to encounter, like not being taken seriously and having trouble finding mentors and role models. The biggest obstacles she faced, however, went well beyond that. 

“It encompasses what I’ve had to give up personally to gain and maintain professional credibility,” Carhart said, explaining that establishing herself as a leader and authority figure in the field was essential to overcoming notions about her credibility. “I absolutely love doing volunteer work, publishing research, and speaking. However, the many hours I spent doing public community work and outreach were also integral to name recognition and being taken seriously, despite biases in the professional community.” 

Furthermore, she had to make big decisions about sacrifices to her personal life in order to maintain her status. 

“In the era when I entered the field, I identified that it wasn’t practically possible to try to have a family if I wanted to continue to do the work I love at the forefront of the field,” Carhart said.

Overcoming adversity

Carhart has talked about challenges in her personal life ininterviews before. 

“Being a consultant in cybersecurity typically requires a great deal of travel — sometimes weeks of the month away from home, working extreme hours, and eating on the road,” she said. “Work-life balance can become very challenging.“

Maintaining a work-life balance may not seem like an issue that’s specific to women, but research shows that women are still expected to act as primary caregivers for children and do the majority of housework. So, in some careers, that can mean choosing between work and home life. 

Adapting to the situation

But the industry still needs women to join its professional workforce, especially as cybersecurity becomes ever more essential to everyone’s daily lives. This is a point Carhart particularly emphasizes. 

“We are at a point of no return with regards to personal data privacy and security,” she said. “We have built a network of mass surveillance and data collection that catalogs us from the moment we’re announced to the moment our obituary is posted. Everything from our health, to our communication, to our secret likes and dislikes is identified and monetized. All of this data can potentially be (and often is) stolen or misused.” 

Personal data can be used for everything from targeted political ads, to hyper-specific marketing, to the even more sinister credit card and bank fraud.

“We have to make a decision as technical professionals, and as members of society, if there will be any legal or technical protections from this at all,” Carhart said. “I would very much like to see more research into the privacy and personal security implications of consumer data breaches, and smart device vulnerabilities, accordingly. If we don’t, this will become the status quo for the next generation.

“There will be no practical escape from companies or thieves knowing the most intimate details of our lives.”

The elevator pitch

Carhart is passionate about what she does and she encourages people of every gender to explore the many opportunities in the field, opportunities that continue to expand.

“My elevator pitch for cybersecurity is that it is generally meaningful work, and encompasses many fascinating fields of study that appeal to various interests and ways of thinking,” she said. “There are opportunities to protect people from digital and even physical harm. Pragmatically, there will also always be work in the industry for people who keep up to date on technologies and changing skill sets. We live in interesting times.”

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