“Girls can’t do math!” is something you may have heard at school when you were a child. Unfortunately, the world we live in is built upon long-running beliefs and notions that influence how we think, feel, and act, which can continue into cycles in adulthood and beyond. When we look at companies in STEM, there is a clear disparity between the ratio of men to women. But why? And how can we change it?
Not as many girls pursue STEM from a young age for a few reasons:
Gender tropes: when you think of math, do you associate that with masculine or feminine behaviors? By no fault of your own, the association of STEM with masculinity has developed over time and as a result has influenced women when faced with choosing their passions as early as in elementary school.
Oversaturated male space: since this is a cyclical problem that is continuously perpetuated by a field oversaturated with men, women entering tech spaces are met with exclusion and inflexibility. To admit that these spaces don’t feel safe or welcoming to both women and minorities is an important and uncomfortable truth behind this problem.
Lack of female role models: now that you know that these spaces are dominated by men, you can also imagine how the media represents these positions in TV shows and movies. Examples of strong leaders in STEM throughout the media and pop culture that inspire young girls are somewhat sparse.
Even though these factors have negatively impacted STEM, movements are being made to combat them. Before we move forward into women in cybersecurity, let’s take a look at some organizations that are working hard at attacking the problems that face women when pursuing STEM and working to close the gender gap.
Organizations Leading the Charge
As of 2022, women in tech made up 28% of the workforce, which is both an unsettling and unfortunate statistic given women make up more than half of the world. Luckily though, organizations have made strides in helping more women have access to STEM as a career choice and they tackle obstacles through offering coding bootcamps, professional development courses, after school programs, and setting up networking and mentorship opportunities.
Supporting women with all of these opportunities allows them to close the gap more and more. Some of the organizations that are doing this work are the National Girls Collaborative Project, Association for Women in Science, Girls in Tech, National Center for Women & Information Technology, AnitaB.org, Ada Developers Academy, Black Girls Code, and so many more. Although the obstacles are deep-seated in society, these organizations are working to improve the lives of both current and future professionals.
Under the STEM umbrella, cybersecurity stands out as a sector that has a wealth of opportunities for professionals.
Women in Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity has been male-dominated for many years, but things are changing slowly but surely. Currently, women make up 25% of the cybersecurity workforce, which is an increase from 2019 and 2013 where women held 20% and 10% of cybersecurity positions, respectively. Although more women have been pursuing cybersecurity thanks to grant programs and initiatives providing support and information to women, there is still more work to do.
According to the Women in Cybersecurity Report of 2022, the future of cybersecurity is female with an estimated upward trend of women in cybersecurity rising to 30% in 2025 and 35% in 2031. As the gap closes little by little, it's important to keep in mind why female involvement in cybersecurity is important for the world at large.
Vacant positions: available cybersecurity positions are vast. In 2022, there were almost 3.5 million cybersecurity positions left unfilled. This means that there are not enough skilled professionals for these roles and since cybersecurity is so essential right now, there is an enormous need to fill these jobs with female professionals that can take on the challenges of cybersecurity.
Higher wages: working in STEM, you may instantly have an increase in salary especially compared to many other jobs out there; unfortunately, women are not pursuing STEM careers as often as men are. The gender wage gap is partially due to the positions that women hold and if men continue to take on more higher-paying roles, this gap will only increase.
Cybersecurity’s importance: every time you sign up for a website or give your sensitive information to a website or company, they are inputting and storing all your information. No one wants their information in the hands of cybercriminals and that’s where cybersecurity comes into play; cybersecurity professionals work to protect your data.
More minds, more solutions: when dealing with new cyberthreats, the need for more ways of looking at a problem are extremely important and diversity of thought makes a team stronger. As cybercrime becomes more and more creative in how they carry out data breaches, the cybersecurity professionals behind the screen also must be creative in how they defend against and search for potential threats.
Female leaders in cybersecurity
Although the gap still exists, there have been a number of women who have accomplished so in the field of cybersecurity.
Dr. Alissa Abdullah (Dr. Jay)
Leading Mastercard as their deputy chief security officer, Dr. Alissa Abdullah has a long list of experience including serving as deputy chief security officer for other organizations such as Xerox and the White House. While working these jobs, she founded a company-wide information risk management program and updated the Executive Office of the President’s system’s cloud and virtualization services. She also heads the Emerging Corporate Security Solutions team and hosts the Mastering Cyber Podcast.
With more than twenty years of experience under her belt, Deneen Difiore is currently working at United Airlines as their vice president and chief information security officer after working her way up the ranks at GE. In addition to her current job, she also sits on several boards such as that of Blackbaud and the Internet Security Alliance and has received recognition for her work from publications like Technology Magazine and CSO Magazine.
She may not have finished her undergraduate degree at Stanford University, but Kyla is the real deal when it comes to cybersecurity. As a high school student, she co founded GirlCon Tech, a high school tech conference that brings together a huge group of professionals and students and Bits N’ Bytes, a cybersecurity education program. She also gives presentations on cybersecurity, working to close the skill gap, unite Gen Z to fight the good fight, and promote internet safety for women at RSAC-USA, TEDxChicago, RSA-APJ in Singapore, and NIST’s NICE K12 Conference. To add to her impressive list of accomplishments, she is currently interning for the NSA and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in Washington DC and will graduate from Stanford in 2024.
These are just a few exemplary women that serve as role models for young girls looking at the possibilities of the future, and as more and more people continue to advocate for women in cybersecurity and STEM, the gender gap will continue to close too. With a huge amount of vacant job positions and a need for more women to be the leaders and role models for future generations, cybersecurity is full of possibilities and now it’s your turn to become the role model. Check out Ironhack’s cybersecurity bootcamp course that will get you ready for the job in no time flat.