How to grow and develop female talent in the cybersecurity sector

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Let’s start with the facts. A 2017 report by the (ISC)² found that only 11 percent of the global cybersecurity workforce was female. Research done by Cybersecurity Ventures in early 2018 suggested that the number should be closer to 20 percent by the end of 2019.

It appears that their predictions were on target according to the (ISC)² 2019 Women in Cybersecurity report, which found that 24 percent of the cybersecurity workforce is now female. The question is, “has the industry really changed that much in two years?” Unfortunately, no.

The report itself indicates that this change in numbers is mostly attributable to a more inclusive research methodology. Regardless, we must focus on what we can do to increase the number of women in security. We know that the more diverse your company is, the more successful that company will become.

This notion follows that an industry will be more successful the more diverse it is. With an expected shortfall of 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs by 2021, as an industry, we should be looking at all of the possible ways to increase the talent pool. Doubling the number of women in the industry would get us a long way to filling those roles.

If each company in our industry focused on two main objects, I believe we would see dramatic changes in gender diversity.

  • Retain the female talent we do have.
  • Attract and grow talent.

Working on employee retention has become a top priority in many tech and cybersecurity companies, and it is an important first step in increasing your gender diversity. We face tough competition with other companies over a finite set of talent.

Organizations must recognize that their top talent is getting multiple recruiting requests a week. If their pay isn’t competitive, their career growth is limited, or the work environment is toxic, then what incentive do they have to stay?

Ensuring you have competitive pay, clear career path progression and an inclusive, collaborative and flexible work environment will go a long way in retaining not only your top female talent, but all your top talent.

This chart shows the percentage of women and men earning specific salary levels by demographic from the (ISC)² 2019 Women in Cybersecurity report.

Do you want to become a company women seek out? Follow these steps:

  • Regularly evaluate your compensation across many demographics. If there is pay inequity, fix it.
  • Create a flexible work environment. Make it easy for your employees to step out for appointments without repercussion, work from home when they or their family members are sick, and take personal leave when they need it.
  • Document how career progression occurs and ensure it is followed to avoid favoritism and biases from creeping in.

Now that you have ensured that when women join your company they will stay, let’s talk about some ways to attract more talent.

Is your talent acquisition primarily through employee referral?
If your gender split isn’t 50/50, then you will have a problem. People will attract others like them. This method will only continue your imbalance.

Do you only recruit from a small set of universities or colleges?
If so your company gender balance will look much like the gender balance of those institutions. Seek out programs that are graduating a higher number of women. Partner with the Women In Computing, or Women In Security organizations in those institutions to have more direct interactions with the women graduating from their programs.

Do you have internal training programs?
If we are going to fill the 3.5 million extra job openings in 2021, we better start training that talent now. Figure out the base set of knowledge you need for an entry level position in your organization, then create formal training programs to grow talent through your organizations. Make the base set of knowledge wide and consider which roles from other industries might easily transition into your roles with proper training.

Remember: If you are one of the first organizations to figure out how to increase you gender diversity, you will have a huge advantage compared with organizations who don’t. You will not only fill more of your empty positions, but increase the viability of your business.

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