My husband, Brian, has managed several fairly large teams in the IT world and recently shifted into cybersecurity. While the teams he managed before were roughly half men and half women, the most recent team he inherited, though ethnically and culturally diverse, is all men. In addition to this team in the United States, he also has one in Bangalore, India. Curiously, the India group does not suffer from the same type of lacking diversity; they are very evenly distributed between men and women. I was curious to uncover more details about this discrepancy and see if I could learn anything to help him increase his gender diversity here in the United States.
While he wants to ensure he is objective in selecting candidates from applicants to the roles that are opening on his team as it grows, he also understands the importance that diversity brings to a team environment. From his past experience with a more diverse team, he recognizes firsthand the value that varied perspectives add when attempting to solve problems and collaborate.
I knew that few women work in cyber security but I did not know the extent of the problem until I started to do some research. The US Department of Homeland Security reports that only 13% of cyber security professionals are women (Bagchi-Sen, Rao, Upadhyaya & Chai, 2010). They go on to state that the percentage is even lower in Europe and Asia. I found this information a little confusing since Brian did not observe this same problem when he was in India just a few weeks ago. His company employs about 2000 IT professionals in Bangalore and about half of them are women. It is possible that in the last several years this situation has improved in India since this study was conducted in 2010. Brian reported that the vast number of billboards, not targeted at a specific gender, in Bangalore were adds to learn English and computers. This may have something to do with increasing the gender diversity in IT and cybersecurity in this area.
According to Bagchi-Sen, Rao, Upadhyaya, and Chai in their study entitled “Women in Cybersecurity: A Study of Career Advancement” (2010) one of the barriers to women entering the field of cyber security is the institutional barrier of the “hacker culture” in the IT world. They also cite reasons other reasons as lack of female role models and mentors in the field as well as the societal expectation that girls are not as good as boys in math and science which results in a confidence gap in these areas starting in middle school and growing even wider in high school. This form of sexism, treating someone in a different way due to their sex (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012), is just one of the many road blocks that hinder girls from pursuing a career that is intensive in math and science.
According to the study “Holistically Building the Cybersecurity Workforce” by Hoffman, Burley, and Toregas (2012) in order to correct the problem of so few women in the field it will take the combined efforts of educators, human resource professionals, and current cybersecurity professionals. As a cybersecurity professional Brian is attempting to do his part to encourage an increase in the number of women interested in the field.
In this new cybersecurity role, Brian said he is realizing that it is rare that his recruiters even find female candidates for his roles. One of the traps recruitment can fall into is searching purely on number of years of past experience. If you are recruiting in a field that has an existing industry-wide gender gap, this method will only propagate the problem. Other comparable fields to cybersecurity that his company recruits from are law enforcement, military, and IT, all of which have similar gender gaps.
One of the methods that he has proposed and is beginning to implement with his recruiting partners to hire in professionals with the aptitude and appetite to learn the field, not only those with direct experience. Given the current industry shortage of cybersecurity professionals of all genders, this idea has gained traction at his company. He plans to utilize these methods and hopefully come up with more in the future to increase the number of women employed on his teams.
Bagchi-Sen, S., Rao, H., Upadhyaya, S., & Chai, S. (2010). Women in cybersecurity: A study of career advancement. IT Professional, 12(1), 24-31. doi: 10.1109/mitp.2010.39
Hoffman, L., Burley, D., & Toregas, C. (2012). Holistically building the cybersecurity workforce. IEEE Security & Privacy Magazine, 10(2), 33-39. doi: 10.1109/msp.2011.181
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.