This is part of a running series for #IWD2021. We sat down with women leaders across the industry for a Q&A to get their insights on the state of women in cybersecurity. Recognize Women Leaders in the 2021 Tech Ascension Awards.
Alicia Lynch, Vice President, Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), SAIC:
How has the women workforce in cybersecurity evolved over recent years?
There are definitely more women in the field than when I started 20 years ago and also many more women now making a career change to cybersecurity. Women bring diverse skill sets and a different way of thinking to the teams. While we do have more women in tech, there is still a noticeable gap in more technical areas like security architecture/engineering and security operations. A larger number of women tend to be in roles like compliance, business analysts, or others that are perceived to require more soft skills. I’m not sure if it's women choosing to go into those functions or if they are just more often selected for those positions.
Where is it heading?
There is still much work to do, as women still represent a smaller percentage of the jobs in tech. However, I do think the younger generation of men coming into the field don't generally have issues working side-by-side with women. Progress has naturally occurred, but I think it could be quicker.
We could accelerate the trend of more women joining the cybersecurity field if we had earlier engagement at the grade/middle school level. It would be great to have more nonprofits focus on helping girls to get excited about cyber. The pandemic has also resulted in a loss of women from the field because of those who had to put their careers on pause to handle their children at home. It appears that we need to get more parity on the home front as much as the workplace.
What advice would you give to young women looking to enter into cybersecurity?
First and foremost, do not be intimidated that the field is predominantly male. Secondly, take advantage of internships as they help build experience and help you find how much you like different aspects of the field. The cyber field has a diversity of job roles, and there is likely one that lines up with your interests, so don’t abandon the field just because the first job might not be what you want.
Additionally, push for more pay parity with your male counterparts. If the marketplace has determined certain pay for a job/role, women should fight to get it. Lastly, don’t be afraid to apply to tech jobs for which you only meet 70% of the requirements. Men do it all the time! Since technology is a constantly evolving field, even our seasoned cyber warriors still have to do a lot of on-the-job training to keep their skills up to date!