The needle hasn’t budged on the number of women in cybersecurity

Lower pay, bias and lack of high-level jobs make industry’s glass ceiling impenetrable to many

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Women aren’t mak­ing much of a dent as par­tic­i­pants and con­trib­u­tors to the boom­ing cyber­se­cu­ri­ty industry.

That’s one of the main con­clu­sions of  The Cen­ter for Cyber Safe­ty and Education’s eighth Glob­al Infor­ma­tion Secu­ri­ty Work­force Study, con­duct­ed by Frost and Sullivan.

The report found that despite more women in the indus­try, their ratio remained stag­nant from two years ago. Astound­ing­ly, the 2015 ver­sion of the same report reached the same conclusion.

But where the num­bers get more inter­est­ing is in the pres­ence of women in lead­er­ship roles and the dis­crim­i­na­tion they encounter. On both counts, the dis­par­i­ty with their male coun­ter­parts is vast.

Relat­ed sto­ry: How to grap­ple with the grow­ing gen­der gap in cybersecurity

Men are four times more like­ly to be in C-lev­el posi­tions, four times more like­ly to be in exec­u­tive man­age­ment, and nine times more like­ly to be man­agers, Frost and Sul­li­van found. And the more women climb the lad­der, the more like­ly they are to encounter dis­crim­i­na­tion, com­pared to their male peers.

The study, which includ­ed 14,000 respon­dents glob­al­ly, found that:

  • Women rep­re­sent 11 per­cent of the work force in infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty globally
  • In North Amer­i­ca, that num­ber is 14 per­cent (vs. about 50 per­cent of women in the total work force)
  • The larg­er num­ber of women in the indus­try in North Amer­i­ca does not trans­late to a larg­er num­ber of female exec­u­tives or man­agers — 1 per­cent of women are C-lev­el exec­u­tives vs. 5 per­cent who are men; 1 per­cent are exec­u­tive man­agers vs. 4 per­cent men; and 2 per­cent are mid­dle man­agers, vs. 16 per­cent of men in North Amer­i­ca and 21 per­cent globally
  • The wage gap has widened for non­man­age­r­i­al posi­tions, but closed for upper-lev­el executives

More dis­crim­i­na­tion on high­er rungs

At all lev­els, a sig­nif­i­cant­ly larg­er num­ber of women feel work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion based on eth­nic­i­ty, gen­der or cul­tur­al group. How­ev­er, the dif­fer­ence between the gen­ders grows dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly high­er as they move up the lad­der. For exam­ple: 35 per­cent of entry-lev­el women feel dis­crim­i­nat­ed against vs. 11 per­cent of men who do, and 65 per­cent of women in exec­u­tive man­age­ment vs. 14 per­cent of men.

Lynn Ter­wo­erds calls the salary gap, dis­crim­i­na­tion and exec­u­tive under­rep­re­sen­ta­tion a “dan­ger­ous tri­fec­ta.” Ter­wo­erds worked in secu­ri­ty response at Microsoft for 10 years and was the infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty risk direc­tor at Ora­cle. She now is the exec­u­tive direc­tor for the Exec­u­tive Women’s Forum, an orga­ni­za­tion for women lead­ers in IT that co-spon­sored the study.

Lynn Ter­wo­erds, Exec­u­tive Women’s Forum exec­u­tive director

We have three bro­ken legs in the stool—underpaid, under­rep­re­sent­ed in man­age­ment, espe­cial­ly senior man­age­ment,” she says. “When you add to that the per­cent­age of women who have expe­ri­enced one or more forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion in the work­place, the 11 per­cent (par­tic­i­pa­tion rate) sud­den­ly is not at all surprising.”

Women more educated

The study also found that regard­less of their lev­el, women in North Amer­i­ca have high­er edu­ca­tion lev­els than men. For example:

  • At C-lev­el, 17 per­cent of women and 7 per­cent of men have doc­tor­ate degrees
  • At entry lev­el, 48 per­cent of women have master’s degrees vs. 34 per­cent of men

Exec­u­tive Women’s Forum founder Joyce Brocaglia says she hears from women that edu­ca­tion is a way for them to lev­el the play­ing field. Brocaglia is the CEO of Alta Asso­ciates (anoth­er report co-spon­sor), a top exec­u­tive-search firm spe­cial­iz­ing in cybersecurity.

Because their com­pe­tence is fre­quent­ly chal­lenged in the work­place, at least they can cre­den­tial­ize them­selves with this edu­ca­tion,” she says.

The glass ceil­ing is a fix­ture in many male-dom­i­nat­ed fields, but seems espe­cial­ly tougher to break in cyber­se­cu­ri­ty. Dis­crim­i­na­tion like­ly plays a major role, says Jason Reed, a Frost & Sul­li­van con­sult­ing ana­lyst who was the lead sta­tis­ti­cian on the study.

He notes that not only do women encounter more dis­crim­i­na­tion as they move to the top, but half of the respon­dents who report­ed dis­crim­i­na­tion said they have expe­ri­enced “denial or delay in their career advance­ment for rea­sons they can’t explain out­side of gen­der-based discrimination.”

Jason Reed, Frost & Sul­li­van con­sult­ing analyst

I think that goes a long way to explain why you see few­er women in the C-suite and man­age­ment posi­tions com­pared to the over­all rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the work force,” he says.

Choos­ing between career, family

May Wang, co-founder of Zing­Box, an IoT secu­ri­ty start­up, thinks that women’s strug­gle between a career and rais­ing a fam­i­ly also plays a role.

Wang, who has a doc­tor­ate in elec­tri­cal engi­neer­ing from Stan­ford, worked for Cisco’s CTO office for 14 years as prin­ci­pal archi­tect (her algo­rithms became part of many Cis­co prod­ucts). She inter­viewed 10 female Sil­i­con Val­ley exec­u­tives for a book and con­clud­ed that many face the same chal­lenges that she does as a mother.

I’m strug­gling every day—do I spend more time on my start­up, which I’m very pas­sion­ate about, or do I spend time with my kids? Many women … even­tu­al­ly decide to quit because between career and kids, they val­ue kids the most,” she says.

As the cyber­se­cu­ri­ty indus­try faces a pro­ject­ed 1.8 mil­lion gap in tal­ent by 2022, Reed says that orga­ni­za­tions will need to fig­ure out how to attract as well as retain women.

We can’t say for cer­tain that there’s no oth­er way to fill the gap that is grow­ing,” he says. “How­ev­er, it’s pret­ty neg­li­gent and it’s ignor­ing an enor­mous oppor­tu­ni­ty if you con­tin­ue to mar­gin­al­ize, dis­cour­age or oth­er­wise not hire 50 per­cent of the work force.”

More sto­ries relat­ed to women in cybersecurity:
School empow­ers women in Afghanistan by teach­ing them how to code
Help want­ed: More women in cyber­se­cu­ri­ty jobs
Unfilled jobs are the biggest threat to cybersecurity

Posted in Cybersecurity, Featured Story