Should women consider a career in cybersecurity? Absolutely!

April 21, 2015 - 23 Comments

With the United Nations’ International Girls in ICT day fast approaching on April 23rd, this is a great opportunity to discuss how we can get young women involved in careers in technology. Cybersecurity is an ever-present issue with companies and individuals suffering attacks daily. At Cisco, we believe that protection from threats does not rely on a single technology or solution, it incorporates both the processes and of course, the people. It is predicted that by 2017, an additional two million security professionals will be needed, but what many young people – particularly women – underestimate, is how rewarding and far-reaching a career in cybersecurity can be.

Taking, the UK as one example, cybersecurity employs 40,000 people and is worth £6 billion to the economy. Yet according to the Cisco 2014 Annual Security Report, more than one million positions for information security professionals remain unfilled around the world. What’s more, is that female cybersecurity staff only account for 11 percent of the global workforce. In Europe, the figures are even worse, coming in at only 7 percent .

Today there still remains a notion that IT is a “man’s job”. Women thinking of applying are often dissuaded as they may lack the confidence needed at the very start to pursue this career path. Yet, not only is this job market growing, but these jobs pay higher than other industries. We must do what we can to encourage young women to be fearless and pursue these fields of study, because they add new perspectives in the workplace that benefit business outcomes.

Women must feel that they can succeed in an IT career right from their first job. The NCWIT report said women leave technology careers at a much higher rate than men, and this could be because they lack inspiration from leadership. 40 percent of women in technical positions reported lacking role models, while nearly half reported lacking mentors. We need to give guidance and support right from when young women first enter higher education, to make them aware of the opportunities in IT and cybersecurity, and adequately prepare them for their careers.

This is where we can play a role. We can inspire young women and show them the opportunities that a job in cybersecurity can bring. This week alone I will be participating in two security industry panels where this topic will be front and center: IEEE RSA Roundtable discussion on IoT and API Management Security and IEEE Women in Security.

Unlike IoE, what’s interesting about cybersecurity, is that it is not a new concept. Bletchley Park was the home of codebreakers during World War II. It was here that the Government Code and Cypher School studied and devised methods that enabled the Allied forces to unlock the military codes and ciphers that secured enemy communications. Among the team of codebreakers were important women – one in particular was Joan Clarke, a cryptanalyst and numismatist, whose Enigma project against Germany’s secret communications earned her numerous awards. Her work, amongst the team of codebreakers, is said to have helped shorten the war by two years. We need more role models like Joan in this industry if we are to set examples for the younger generation.

History shows us that women in cybersecurity can change the world. At the same time, it can also have an impact on the economy. The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ ‘Estimating the Cost of Cyber Crime and Cyber Espionage’ report estimates that US$100 billion is lost annually to the U.S. economy alone, and as many as 508,000 U.S. jobs are lost because of malicious online activity. By taking a job in cybersecurity, you can educate people on the importance of keeping their data safe, and on top of that, help protect companies and perhaps even nations.

Cisco has an enduring commitment to encourage, inspire and empower students of all backgrounds to build careers in ICT. We also hope they consider opting for science, technology, engineering, and mathematic academic pathways. Girls Power Tech, our newly launched global mentoring initiative in support of the United Nations International Girls in ICT Day, aims to offer a special learning opportunity for young female students to connect with Cisco mentors on-site at Cisco offices around the world. We hope to open young women’s eyes to both the Internet of Everything and Cisco technologies, to show them what the IT sector could hold for their future. Here at Cisco, we launched a global Internet of Things (IoE) World Forum Young Women’s Innovation Grand Challenge for young women aged between 13-18 years old to encourage them to start thinking about a career in technology, and giving them an opportunity to experience new uses of IoE technologies.

Girls in ICT day is just over a week away – what will you be doing to encourage young women to pursue a career in IT? Tweet us at @CiscoNetAcad using the hashtag #GirlsinICT.

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  1. It is surprising to hear that females make up only 11% of the global workforce. In the future I can see more and more women entering the space, which they should.

  2. To encourage women in Information technology especially cyber security is wonderfully but we have problem in Rwanda
    for having opportunities on some training ,

  3. Thank you Monique for leading the way. I am part of TechGirls, a US Department of State Initiative training girls from MeNA region in tech. We have 5 scholarships for US teen girls to join them for a week of programming classes. Deadline for applications is May 2 – we want to engage girls and put them on a career track in tech fields.

  4. Hi, I was reading on women workforce in cybersecurity and found your article. I want to change my job. I am 35 yrs old and applied for a second Bsc degree in cybersecurity. Will it be late for me since I will be 40 when I finished it? Your comments are valuable for me. Thank you. Isil

  5. I’m more into web development than cybersecurity but I have to say, the problem is the same, recruiters tend to overlook women’s profiles because “men are more technical in development”, that’s completely wrong ! So many times I’ve been asked if I was “really” a developer myself, “prove it, what language do you know etc…”, that’s both depressing AND tiring…

    • Dear Sarah
      We have to work together to change such biases against technical women. There are great male advocates by the way. Keep having that great impact in web development!!!
      Thank you!

  6. Thanks morrow for that insight, but can i convince my younger sister of about 12 to opt out of medicine she is so interested in studying, though i see the interest coming out of the kind of environment she found herself (people believing no medicine,no pay o r prestige)because as for me, No tech no world even though i am yet to join the netacad owing to financial constraint which i know will be gone in few months.

    • Dear Afolabi,
      I would not discourage your younger sister from wanting to be a doctor….it’s a great option .
      You are on the way to go into tech and net academy is fantastic!
      Please don’t give up!

  7. This shouldn’t even be an issue anymore. Women can do anything men can do. This has become even more apparent now that women are even going through Ranger Training! If women can pass Ranger Training, then they can do literally anything that a man can. Cyber security or physical security.

    • Michael
      Yes yes yes! Believe me I agtee with you but the data and discussions suggest we have a challenge here.
      How you would concretely attract AND retain womem in a tech, cybertechnology profession.
      Thanks for weighing in!

  8. Thank you Monique for walking the talk. You always encourage us and we know we have a support system to help us fill up the pipeline. Together we are strong.

  9. Dear Evelyn
    I thank YOU for your leadership in this soace!
    Forever humbled!

  10. Dear Monique, It was a treat to read your blog this afternoon. Many thanks for your constant passion and dedication in advancing the role of women in STEM!

  11. Dear Michele I am ever sooo humbled to be in the presence of extraordinary pioneers as yourself!
    Thank you for are super leadership in this space!

  12. Monique, thank you for a awesome article and a great “call to action”. The needs are many which means there is tremendous opportunity for all in the cybersecurity profession, especially women. It’s a very exciting, every changing field that creates an excitement and passion about going to work everyday. Let’s move the needle ladies!

  13. Dear Rehana

    I so appreciate your comment!
    Thank you so much for all your support – I truly value it and value YOU!

  14. Monique, you never cease to amaze me. Providing guidance and inspiring young women is start thinking about a career in technology is crucial and with role models like you and Joan Clarke, I think we well on our way. Cheers!

  15. Dear Santanu,
    Thank you so much for your comment and most importantly, to forwarding the link for IoE to your niece.
    Inspiring one person is a great win – inspiring a the world is truly transformational!
    Let’s inspire together!

  16. Great and very relevant write-up, as usual, Monique. Some members of the fairer gender have been formidable in IT security- Radia Perlmann, along with yourself, jumps to mind readily – but nearly not as much as there could be or should be. You have been amazing inspiring people. I forwarded the link for IoE for young women to my niece 🙂

    Thanks and respects