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Women boast increasing numbers, more leadership roles in data security

Women are being attracted to data security roles in greater numbers, and women now represent 24 percent of the cybersecurity workforce.

That is the finding of (ISC)², the world’s largest nonprofit association of certified cybersecurity professionals, as revealed in its 2019 Women in Cybersecurity report.

According to the study, this estimate is a higher percentage than in past reports, “in part due to the adoption of a new sample methodology that creates a more accurate and holistic representation of the cybersecurity and IT/ICT professionals responsible for securing their organization's critical assets.”

While the stronger representation of women in the cybersecurity workforce is encouraging, the report indicates that challenges like wage inequality remain.

“The data confirms what we’ve been seeing for the past few years on the ground. More women are coming into the field of cybersecurity with post-graduate degrees and not only working in the trenches but also in the C-suite,” said (ISC)² CEO David Shearer. “Women in high-level positions will foster more inclusion and inspire young women to join the industry, and there are certainly many exciting opportunities available for those seeking to inspire a safe and secure cyber world. Diversity only makes us stronger.”

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Among the key findings of the study, the newest generation of professionals entering the cybersecurity field is decidedly more female than in the past: 45 percent of women surveyed are millennials, compared to 33 percent of men.

While just 24 percent of the industry is female today, this will change the face of the cybersecurity profession in the years to come, the report emphasizes.

Women also bring higher levels of education to cybersecurity, the study says. More women (52 percent) in the survey hold a post-graduate degree than their male counterparts (44 percent).

The report also found that although men still outnumber women in cybersecurity by about three to one overall, women in the field are advancing to leadership positions. According to survey respondents, higher percentages of women than men are attaining senior leadership and decision-making positions.

  • Chief technology officer – 7 percent of women vs. 2 percent of men
  • Vice president of IT – 9 percent of women vs. 5 percent of men
  • IT director – 18 percent of women vs. 14 percent of men
  • C-level/executive – 28 percent of women vs. 19 percent of men

“It’s an encouraging sign that more women are succeeding in cybersecurity and moving up through the ranks,” said Jennifer Minella, vice president of engineering and security at Carolina Advanced Digital, Inc. and chairperson of the (ISC)2 Board of Directors. “For many years this hasn’t been the case, and we need to continue to do all we can to make ours a welcoming profession for the most talented and innovative individuals, regardless of gender.”

Challenges Remain

Despite the progress being made with the numbers of women assuming data security roles, the report also indicates that pay inequities persist. For example, 17 percent of women globally reported annual salaries between $50,000 – $90,000, as compared to 29 percent of men; and 15% of women earn between $100,000 – $499,999, while 20 percent of men earn at least that much.

For all their differences, the report indicates that men and women share a lot of the same concerns about their roles, including lack of commitment from upper management, the reputation of their organization, risk of seeing their job outsourced, lack of work/life balance, the threat of artificial intelligence (AI) reducing the need for cybersecurity workers and a lack of standardized cybersecurity terminology to effectively communicate within their organizations.

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