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How women can close the talent gap in cybersecurity jobs

As with many technology sectors, women tend to be the minority gender and the field of cybersecurity is no exception.

According to The 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study, women make up only 11 percent of the current cybersecurity workforce. That same study also estimates the demand for cybersecurity professionals will grow by 1.8 million positions by 2022, and others estimate the number of positions will be as high as 3.5 million by 2021.

It’s clear that the demand is high for all cybersecurity specialties – and will only accelerate over the next few years.

The first step in getting more women interested in the industry is to communicate the desirability and availability of some of the rewarding positions. The next step is to provide the technical knowledge that will open the door for them to enter the field. This can be gained both through earning professional certifications and work experience.

A solid education will hone many of the most desirable skills and abilities, such as professional level communication and critical thinking. Depending on the desired cybersecurity position, this could require an associate’s degree (technician level), bachelor’s degree (professional level), or master’s degree (executive level) to enter the field – and also to continue to advance in this profession.

Although earning a degree of any level represents a significant investment of time and money, it can greatly benefit a woman’s livelihood with substantially increased earnings over the course of her career. O*Net estimates that a mid-range salary for an Information Security Analyst is about $95,500 per year.

While some women in the cybersecurity field report a high incidence of unconscious discrimination on the job, or report feeling a sense of isolation due to the gender imbalance of men to women, these challenges are not insurmountable. Women should seriously consider becoming a part of the change and making cybersecurity more inclusive.

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Portrait of a young woman scientist in supercomputer center

Here are several actions women can take to enhance their experience in the industry – and succeed alongside their male colleagues in a comfortable and positive work environment.

  • Dig Deep Into Technical Knowledge. Women should have an in-depth understanding of operating systems, computing and networking hardware, as well as a variety of network monitoring tools, such as Wireshark. This type of training is not expensive, and by targeting and studying for a variety of cybersecurity-related certifications, will help to deepen their understanding of the technology that supports cybersecurity.
  • Take Every Opportunity To Network. If there are not a lot of women in your company, consider joining and becoming active in the growing range of women’s STEM and cybersecurity-related organizations, such as Women in Cybersecurity or the Association for Women in Science. Networking with other women not only helps avoid the sense of isolation that many might feel in the field, but may also yield opportunities for gaining a mentor.
  • Leverage Your Soft Skills. Women have a reputation for being better listeners than men, and also tend to have a more enhanced ability to recognize problems. Candidates possessing impressive technical skills without strong soft skills will face more challenges when trying to advance in their careers. Employers look for and reward candidates that possess these crucial soft skills combined with deep technical knowledge.
  • Earn A Technical-Oriented Foundation Degree. Don’t assume that any bachelor’s degree has equal value in getting you into a masters program or has equal value on the job market. While it may be tempting to skip ahead, possessing a technically-oriented bachelor’s degree before advancing to a graduate degree will provide a more desirable foundation for your overall career. This is especially true for women who may have been out of the job market for a while.
  • Make Sure You’re Genuinely Interested. Cybersecurity requires an interest in not just knowing how to use technology, but also in knowing how technology works on a fundamental level. If you’re not interested in how a computer or router works, cybersecurity may not be a satisfying career for you. While the salaries in cybersecurity are certainly impressive - and projected to grow with the talent shortage, salary alone can’t make up for not enjoying what you do.

Overall, women who enter the cybersecurity field have limitless opportunities to grow their career, and simultaneously close the gender gap in information technology fields and infuse much needed diversity into a fascinating and rewarding industry.

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