Scholarships aim to encourage women to pursue cybersecurity careers

To boost the percentage of women in IT security careers, (ISC)2 has instituted two new scholarships, each totalling up to $40,000 per year.

The training body (ISC)² has begun offering scholarships to encourage more women and young people to take up information security as a career.

There is no salary gap between men and women in our industry. So it’s a very viable option for women.

Julie Peeler, foundation manager, (ISC)²

The organisation, which operates many of the information security industry’s most widely supported certification programmes, has extended its scholarship programme, which up to now has focused exclusively on graduates and post-graduates. Now the organisation is launching new funding targeted specifically at younger individuals and women, to help them develop their skills and take up a cybersecurity career.

The new Women’s Scholarship Program will award two scholarships, totalling up to $40,000 a year to qualifying undergraduate and graduate female applicants. In addition, an unspecified number of smaller bursaries worth $5,000 will be offered to qualifying students enrolled at an accredited non-profit college or university who are pursuing a course of study in a discipline related to computer and network security.

Julie Peeler, foundation manager for (ISC)², said the changes in the scholarship programme are intended to raise awareness of the career opportunities in information security, and to help plug the skills gap identified in the 2011 (ISC)² Global Information Security Workforce Study, published in February.

“The percentage of women in the industry is holding pretty steady at 10 to 11%,” Peeler said. “So, as the industry grows, there are numerically more women, but the proportion is around the same. Like many science and technology industries, we have some trouble attracting women.”

Peeler said the security industry provides women with plenty of opportunity, and employers are keen to recruit them when they can.

“According to the workforce study, there is no salary gap between men and women in our industry. So it’s a very viable option for women,” she said. “And employers are now looking at diversity in a different way. Hiring professionals are looking for a diversity of thought and approach, of problem solving, management techniques and diversity of experiences in life.”

This view was endorsed by Ruth Jacobs, an information security recruitment consultant at specialist agency Barclay Simpson. “It is still very rare to see women applicants for security jobs, even though there are some women in prominent positions,” she said. “If we do get women, we find they are usually easier to place because companies seem to want them. I’ve never encountered any sexism in this industry.”

Despite that, there still seems to be little interest in the subject from British females. According to Judy Baker, director of the Cyber Security Challenge UK, a competition created to encourage new people to join the industry, only 8% of entrants last year were women, and the proportion so far this year is even lower.

“It’s disappointing,” Baker said. “A lot of the problem is a lack of awareness of the job. The abilities that professionals need include thinking out of the box, attention to detail, deductive reasoning and multi-tasking -- these are not gender-specific skills, and these careers have a lot to attract women.”

Baker said the Cyber Security Challenge website will soon feature case studies from people working in security, including women who have successful careers.

One woman who chose security as a career is Jane Frankland, a founder and director of Surrey-based consultancy Corsaire, and she encourages more women to enter the field.

“I’ve always felt security is the most interesting and exciting part of IT, and there’s no reason why women should not make a success of it. And, with so many guys out there, it’s easier for a woman to stand out and make a good impression. It can be a key differentiator,” she said.

(ISC)2 offers details of the scholarships on its website; applications need to be submitted by Oct. 3.

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