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.