The Big Picture
In 2015, Frost & Sullivan estimated that 1.5 million positions will be open and unfilled by 2020 and that women make up only 10 percent of the cyber workforce. Because demand is far outpacing supply in the cyber security sector and cyber attacks are not going away anytime in the foreseeable future, job security in this sector is strong.
In addition, global spending on cyber security products and services will exceed $1 trillion cumulatively over the next five years, from 2017 to 2021. Many corporations have increased their cybersecurity budgets. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. doubled its annual cybersecurity budget from $250 million to $500 million. Bank of America has gone on the record stating it has an unlimited budget when it comes to combating cybercrime. Microsoft Corp. will continue to invest over $1 billion annually on cybersecurity research and development in the coming years, according to a senior executive at the tech giant.
The Center for Cybersecurity Safety and Education just released the 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study (GISWS): Women in Cybersecurity. Although participation in the 2017 GISWS increased by 40.9 percent, the report confirmed that representation of women in the cybersecurity workforce remains stagnant at 11 percent. Essentially, there is no change over the past two years, despite efforts by industry, government, and academic agencies.
In 2015 and 2016, a U.S. team won gold at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) for high school students. Yet something was missing from both six-member teams: girls. Girls are under-represented at math competitions, generally. For instance, 108,137 middle-school students took part in the 2016 AMC 8. This American Mathematics Competition (AMC) is for eighth-grade and younger students. Girls represented fewer than half — only about 44 percent of the contestants.
At the AMC 10 and 12 competitions for high school students, 3,223 students who took part in the main event date, just 443 were girls. These numbers are striking because girls can be just as good at math as boys are. Somehow, many girls pick up the idea that math is not for them. Moreover, not only do they enter competitions less often than boys do, but also they are less likely to pursue math-related careers.
Despite the stereotype that boys do better in math and science, girls have made higher grades than boys throughout their school years for nearly a century, according to a 2014 report published by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Is College Education a Reason?
Women in the cybersecurity profession enter the profession with higher education levels than men. Fifty-one percent of women in the profession have a Master’s degree or higher, compared to 45% for men. Closely related to cybersecurity is computer science. Undergraduate degrees reveal that 48% hold computer and information sciences degrees versus 42% for women. Only a 6% difference.
Even prior to college, statistics show that girls overall have better grades. The female advantage in school performance in math and science did not become apparent until junior or middle school, according to the study, published in the APA journal, Psychological Bulletin. As students progressed through high school, the math/science grades difference decreased.
In a 2015 ISACA (previously known as the Information Systems Audit and Control Association) study, 77 percent of young women stated that their high school teacher or guidance counselor never mentioned cybersecurity as a career option. Clearly, school counselors need to improve in this aspect.
There are programs that are making an effort to reach female students years before college. Here are some of them:
IBM: Since 2016, the corporation has been hosting “IBMCyberDay4Girls” events in the US, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and most recently in Nigeria, to promote cybersecurity education. Throughout this full-day experience designed just for seventh- and eighth-grade girls, they will learn about the Internet of Things, participate in group activities such as basic threat modeling.
GenCyber: The GenCyber program provides summer camp experiences for students and teachers at the K-12 level. The goals of the program are to increase interest in cybersecurity careers and diversity in the cybersecurity workforce of the nation. The purpose of this program is to participate in the solution to the Nation’s shortfall of skilled cybersecurity professionals.
Girls Who Code: Reshma Saujani is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. She began her career as an attorney and activist. In 2010, she surged onto the political scene as the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress. During the race, Reshma visited local schools and saw the gender gap in computing classes firsthand, which led her to start Girls Who Code. Today, over 90,000 girls have benefited from the programs.
Girls Who Code offers after-school clubs for 6th-12th-grade girls. They have 2-week specialized summer courses for the same grades. In addition, there are 7-week summer programs for 10th-12th grades girls to learn coding and obtain exposure to technology jobs.
The job shortage creates jobs galore in the field of cybersecurity. Unemployment in many markets is zero. Best of all, the profession pays well. According to CNBC, the average annual salary for a cyber security professional with a bachelor’s degree is $116,000. The more advanced positions that require a master’s degree, the salaries can double.