The dearth of women and minorities in computer security came into sharper focus at the RSA security conference in San Francisco with a workforce study that showed the industry lagging even the paltry numbers at Silicon Valley’s larger technology companies.
The 2015 ISC² workforce study shows 10 percent of the information security workforce is women, compared to about 30 percent at tech companies like Google Inc.,Twitter Inc. and Apple Inc. The combined percentages of African Americans and Hispanics in the field of cybersecurity totals less than 10 percent as well, according to data from an RSA presentation.
“We need to invite women in,” Michelle Cobb, VP Marketing of Skybox Security, said during a panel Monday. “This change is not going to happen by itself. Ten percent is appalling; that’s a number we should all be shocked at.”
Those numbers come in the context of an industry that’s struggling to fill job openings. The disconnect between available positions in computer security and the potential pool of workers represented by women and minorities represents both opportunity and danger for companies, panelists said.
The demand for security professionals is going to outstrip the supply, said Lisa Foreman-Jiggetts, CEO of the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu, during another panel at RSA. Bringing in these underrepresented communities will help solve the problem.
“If we don’t make sure there’s more growth in this space, we’re going to fall behind that much further,” said Larry Whiteside, executive vice president of the International Consortium of Minority Cyber Professionals. “A CEO of a large tech company said something alarming to me: Every year there are 300,000 computer science graduates; 3 percent go into security. Out of that 3 percent, only 3 percent are minorities.”
The discussion about diversity at technology companies often circles back to the pipeline question: How many women or people of color are choosing science, technology, engineering and math, the STEM curricula, to study?
“Girls are shying away from STEM,” Foreman-Jiggetts said. “It’s not cool to be in tech; we’d like to see girls go into cyber work. This is a historical thing. We need to come together. They have to see there’s women like us doing this type of work.”
Teaching children at a young age about the importance of work in science and engineering is important, many of the panelists at RSA said. Only 16 percent of senior high school students in the U.S. are proficient and interested in STEM, RSA data show.
School curricula need to match up better with the dynamic world of cybersecurity as well, said Renee Forney, executive director of the Cyberskills Management Support Initiative for the Department of Homeland Security. And without having an understanding of the practical applications of the skills they are taught, it’s boring for students, she said.
She noted that women opt out before they even start in STEM careers.
You can’t just throw money at this problem and think it’s going to be solved, Forney said. The industry and government need to work together to make sure professors are teaching the right material, she said.
Changing corporate culture will happen by having more minorities, including women, in leadership, said Joyce Brocaglia, CEO of the Executive Women’s Forum, a group aimed at attracting, retaining and advancing women in the information security, IT risk management and privacy industries.
“How do we get these folks from opting out?” she said. “Women struggle with the same things. They struggle with being emotional at work. They struggle with having a powerful voice and having a seat at the table and integrating their business and personal lives.”
Confidence and not worrying so much about being liked will definitely help women succeed in Internet security, said Angela Knox, engineering director at Cloudmark.
“There’s like a puzzle,” she said. “Malicious actors are working in an economy, and working together collaboratively. Being able to put the puzzle together is one of the key skills.”
That’s why skills like collaboration and being able to see the bigger picture, attributes that women often have, will help fight the top security issues today, she said.