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Breaking Barriers: Women are Essential for Advancing Cybersecurity, Here's How We Can Support Them

This is part 1 of our #InternationalWomensDay series.

Women bring unique perspectives and diverse thinking to the field of cybersecurity, which is essential for advancing the discipline. By encouraging more women to pursue careers in cybersecurity, we can create a stronger, more diverse, and more effective workforce.

International Women's Day

We heard from women leaders from across the cybersecurity industry about what makes women so critical to advancing cyber and how the industry can support females and bring more women to the field.

Eve Maler, CTO, ForgeRock "True innovation is unlocked when diverse opinions are exchanged to solve problems – to develop the next big thing, we need to be open to new voices. My recommendation for business leaders is to encourage open forums where employees have both the freedom and the responsibility to contribute to ideation – and, importantly, where everyone is welcome at the table. When you support such discussions, you help your workforce become comfortable with diverse viewpoints and you foster creativity in the business context.While I feel we are moving in the right direction, there is still work to be done to encourage greater contributions from women in the cybersecurity space in particular. One challenge for many female employees right now is striking the right work-life balance; organisations must focus on improving flexibility in this area. Many organisations offer great support groups, but often day-to-day work gets in the way, preventing people from taking advantage of the support available. Recognising the value of diversity for improving business outcomes should further intensify efforts to ensure that a team both embodies and embraces the power of differences.” Clar Rosso, CEO, (ISC)2

“I encourage women to figure out where their passions lie, to be intentional about their career goals, and find a path to get there.

Women and underrepresented groups often talk themselves out of advocating on their behalf and pursuing opportunities that they really want. The reasons are varied, they aren’t ready, they don’t have all the qualifications, their kids aren’t the right age, and on it goes. To get past these barriers, I find simple, yet effective advice is: ‘If you had a friend in the same situation, what would you advise her?’

Once you have committed to pursuing a career goal, build your network of women and men who will help you break into your desired industry or obtain your next role. In addition to checking in with your existing network, attend as many in-person networking events as you are comfortable, but also take advantage of the powerful virtual networking opportunities presented in this post-pandemic world. Personally, I always find connection through a 15-30 minute virtual coffee inspiring.

For women who are thinking about a career in cybersecurity, welcome! We need you and there is a place for you in cybersecurity. In recent years, we have seen growth of women entering the profession and steps to increase equity and inclusion.

However, women still only make up 25% of the cybersecurity workforce, and in some parts of the world, the percentages are much lower. Additionally, our 2022 Cybersecurity Workforce Study revealed that 30% of female employees feel discriminated against at work. And, professionals have told me they lack a sense of belonging when they are the only woman in the room. More can be done. Beyond recruitment, organizations should take the necessary steps to retain and advance women professionals in the cybersecurity community.

Our workforce study also tells us that organizations with DEI programs in place have significantly smaller workforce gaps than those that do not. Among the most impactful programs are ones that focus on pay equity, removing bias from hiring and advancement practices, and prioritizing inclusion over gatekeeping.

The benefits of an inclusive culture, especially in cybersecurity are plentiful—and critical. Organizations that commit to inclusion bring problem solvers, analytical and critical thinkers, and diverse skill sets and backgrounds to the table to solve challenges and build opportunities. This is how we secure information and systems globally. It takes all of us.

Additionally, we all need mentors. Organizations don’t necessarily need a formal mentorship program; mentorship can be informal, but women and other underrepresented groups within the profession often say that having a mentor helps them feel valued in their roles and encourages them to ask for advice and opinions on success in the industry. And while there are benefits to in-house mentors and sponsors, seeking mentors outside your organization also can provide valuable perspective.

Organizations can also enhance retention by providing professional development resources that invest in women and enable greater access to growth opportunities. Many women leave jobs due to a lack of career progression opportunities. Organizations will benefit from being more intentional and transparent about career advancement opportunities that ensure that women have equal access.

Achieving gender equity takes all of us. Every time you share a best practice or take a step to reduce bias from your processes and practices makes a difference.” Connie Stack, CEO of Next DLP "I relate deeply to the #EmbraceEquity theme. Female CEOs are rare creatures, female CEO’s in cybersecurity even rarer still – but I am here because I’ve been fortunate enough to be associated with leaders, organizations and peers throughout my career journey who absolutely embraced equity. They not only made me feel like I could become a cybersecurity CEO, but advocated and supported me in getting there. The cybersecurity industry has made unprecedented advances in the past ten years, but no company or organization I can think of has achieved complete gender equality. International Women’s Day provides a great opportunity for our industry to reflect on progress made, to celebrate the women who have already made significant contributions in the cybersecurity world and to call for continued change so we entice more women to choose this exciting and worthwhile vocation." Kristen Bell, Director of Application Security Engineering at GuidePoint Security

"This year’s theme is eye opening and impressive. I have always felt that “equality” never really hit the mark for me. I have always believed that women bring something unique to the table with regard to IT Security. One of my go-to quotes when I’m speaking about women in Cyber comes from Marilyn Monroe, “I don’t mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a woman in it.” To speak about, and embrace equity versus equality, encapsulates the meaning I interpret in her words. Comparing and contrasting equity versus equality is a much simpler way of conveying and articulating a message that I’ve been speaking about for years, so I will likely be using this theme as a subject for years to come.

There are more jobs than people to fill them in Application Security and we are always looking for ways to build our own workforce and we are always looking for opportunities to encourage more people to think about joining our workforce. Putting successful women in cyber in the spotlight helps to encourage other women to choose a career in cyber. It also gives us the ability to illustrate the increase in women contributing to our space and to celebrate their accomplishments. International Women’s Day gives us the opportunity to get out there and spread our message." Karen Worstell, Senior Cybersecurity Strategist, VMware

"Many of us can take access to tech for granted in our day to day lives. However, its advantages are still out of reach for some. The industry must come together to ensure the expansion of access to technology and a thorough digital education. We must renew our commitment to all who lack the resources to pursue their tech curiosity and expand mentoring to ensure women and girls have the support they need to succeed.

Whilst tech’s transformational potential is indisputable, that potential will not be fully realized due to the social and economic implications of big Tech’s gender gap. A review of innovation in recent decades shows that a lack of appreciation for diversity – whether it be gender or otherwise – is in large part to answer for innovation failures. Savvy leaders are discovering that a diverse workforce and inclusive culture has a positive impact on the bottom line. To enact change, those with influence as an employee, senior leaders must practice proactive allyship to support those breaking into the industry or simply sharing their tech curiosity. The industry will not reach its potential for social good if it does not mirror the true nature of the world beyond it." Riki Goldriech, Chief People Officer, Radware

"Working for a security company means you have the opportunity to do good and promote a safe digital environment for all. The industry can “spread the word” about the great career opportunities it offers, the positive impact people can make through their work, and the employee benefits that can accommodate different populations, such as flexible hours, which may attract young mothers." Neetu Singh, Security Solutions Lead, Radware

"Cybersecurity is a field where you can immediately see how a solution can positively impact an organization and protect people’s privacy and livelihoods from fraudsters. Staying ahead of criminals is a significant part of the job. It is rewarding to help people and organizations learn about the cyber dangers that they face and how they can stay vigilant and a step ahead of bad actors.

While more women are entering the security field, it still has a long way to go in addressing the gender diversity gap. It will take a sustained and comprehensive effort to proactively design programs that create more interest in the field and attract talent. Evangelism programs in schools and colleges can contribute to higher level of interest in the field." Delilah Schwartz, Security Strategist at Cybersixgill

"As a young woman in cybersecurity, I believe that "embracing equity" is crucial to address the underrepresentation of women in the industry. Women are increasingly breaking through cyber's glass ceiling, making significant contributions to the field, but inequities in access to education, resources, and opportunities still prevent many from realizing their full potential. International Women's Day represents an opportunity for us to come together, celebrate the achievements of women in cybersecurity, and continue working towards a more equitable and inclusive industry that empowers women not only to participate, but to thrive."

Roya Gordan, Security Research Evangelist, Nozomi Networks

"The term "embrace equity" is an evolution of the current dialogue on diversity and inclusion. While it's important to strive for a more diverse cyber workforce and foster an inclusive work culture, equity takes it a step further by challenging businesses to provide everyone with equal opportunities and resources to succeed in cybersecurity. The theme “embrace equity” is truly a powerful message.

International Women’s Day is a day for women to be recognized for their contributions in cybersecurity. I think it’s important to highlight that, despite being a male-dominated field, there are numerous women who are driving cutting-edge research and innovation. By highlighting their achievements, we inspire younger generations to pursue careers in cybersecurity with the knowledge that it is indeed possible for them to succeed as well."



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