From Base-2 to Base-2X: Women in CyberSecurity
by Shravani Sawant
Jamuna Swamy, an award-winning Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)) has said,
“There is certainly a rising trend among women to take up the cybersecurity domain for their profession”.
Now, despite a substantial rise in the number of women in the cybersecurity field, the overall share of female employees remains much lesser than what one would consider to be equal. Women represented a fifth of the global cybersecurity workforce in 2019. If that isn’t alarming in itself, even fewer women of these are in leadership positions.
What is CyberSecurity?
In amateur terms, cybersecurity involves protection (hiding data from unwanted parties), encryption (making data unreadable to them), and maintenance of integrity (making data inalterable by them).
The rise of cybersecurity as an application was caused as a concomitant of the rise of computers, and the processing of data. With data reported to be the new ‘oil’, protection of this widely spread and negligently used resource is an implementation that seriously needs to keep up with its gargantuan growth.
So, why exactly does the gender disparity exist?
1. Existence of bias
Other than the external bias presenting itself as an obstacle to women in professional fields over the very fact that they are, well, women in professional fields, there exists an internal bias as well. Being aware of the low representation in the field dissuades an aspiring female from taking it up herself. Questions like, “Why are there so few women in cybersecurity?” lead to unsubstantiated doubts of “If so many women before me haven’t been able to crack the gateway pass for this field, I don’t think I’ll be able to, either”. Such self-deprecating doubts are something we all have been guilty of at some point, and are something we need to fight head-on as well.
2. Lack of awareness
Women simply aren’t aware of some of the opportunities that await them. A recent survey shows that not only do many organizations currently have unfilled cybersecurity positions, but for many it takes upwards of six months to fill a security opening. A factor contributing towards these statistics is that most jobs available to a Computer Science or Computer Engineering undergraduate are general, one-size-fits-all jobs under the title of ‘Software Developer’ (or something similar), because most colleges tend to impart rudimentary computer programming and software-related subjects only.
What are businesses missing out on?
1. A recent study of VC-funded teams found that women-led organizations bring in 12% higher revenue than male-dominated firms, and outperform all-male peer organizations by 63%.
2. Going by the adage of ‘Birds of a feather, flock together’, including only people who come from equivalent backgrounds is basically setting yourself up for failure. It’s as good as allocating resources to the same person, doing the job over and over. Diversity allows for a fresh perspective, taking on prevailing problems with contemporaneous solutions, and promoting ideas that have never been seen before — simply because they’ve never been heard before. All this while, only half the population has been dominating the industries, imagine the smashing revolutions that will be brought in if the other half shoots for the stars as well.
3. As a fresh graduate stepping meekly into the discombobulated world of tech, we tend to look for successful people who might have started out similar to us, and have now ended up somewhere around the point we’d like to be as well. The more women we have at the top, the more women we will have at the top — it’s as simple as that. This will also increase the chances of closing the pay gap, as there would be a stronger population fighting in solidarity for their own well-deserved rights.
Initiatives for Boosting Women Percentage in the Cybersecurity Workspace:
The silver lining to all of these problems, is that we now have many more women speaking up, demanding an explanation as well as a solution. Together with various organisations, they are forming women-focused committees to boost numbers in the field.
– Women in Cyber Security (WiCyS) is a non-profit organisation that works to be the primary platform assisting women in cybersecurity from academia, research and the industry and provide them with the necessary tools, resources, and contacts to push for their ambitions.
– Last year, Microsoft India and Data Security Council of India (DSCI) launched CyberShikshaa, a three-year program to create a pool of skilled cybersecurity women professionals in the country to promote cyber literacy in women coming from weaker sections of the society.
– Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu (WSC) is another non-profit community that provides training, networking, mentoring and other opportunities to women trying to break into the field and progressing further than they are currently.
With millennial women growing up around the feminist revolution, what does the future look like?
Alisha Ramos, Senior Front-End Designer at Vox Media, said:
“Having role models who are the same gender as you, who look like you, who came from a similar background as yours, can go a long way.”
The future looks bright. Despite the frankly despairing statistics, more women are shooting for positions and looking to do things their predecessors have not done before. More women are coming up, asserting themselves, and claiming the rights that have been denied to them for so long in the profession.
Recently, compared to men, higher percentages of women cybersecurity professionals are reaching positions such as chief technology officer (7% of women vs. 2% of men), vice president of IT (9% vs. 5%), and IT director (18% vs. 14%), based on findings in the 2018 (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study. The figures show that women are forging a path to management. They are generally more educated and younger.
This is just the start. Any fight for social and professional reform is an arduous, challenging journey. More often than not, these fights never provide instant gratification, and are hence all the more tough to crack. However, there’s hope in the direction we are moving, and it’s our job to keep the momentum going in this very direction.
Let’s hope for a time we don’t read articles titled ‘Women in X’ because there will be nothing remarkable about the fact that there are women in a particular field, and let the fact that they thrive in their roles be a remarkable, progressive, yet absolutely mundane fact. Let’s hope for a time where we celebrate achievements from all genders, bigger and better developments in every field from computer science, physical science, finance, entrepreneurship, etc. and the headlines wouldn’t feature ‘The company’s first female CEO’ locking in amazing progress. Let’s not have headlines with their patent element of surprise at having a badass female in charge, but rather have them go for the dreary ‘Hey, we’re used to having kickass female leads, nevertheless, here’s another huge achievement she’s brought about’.
Shaherose Charania, Co-Founder and CEO of Women 2.0 has said:
“Women no longer have an ‘if I can’ mindset. Now it’s more about ‘how I can’ — be in tech, start something in tech, fund something in tech. That shift is exciting! And it happened because we created a network where we show, daily, that women are innovating.”
Hear, hear — we here (pun unintended) say to the above statement.
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