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Women now almost a quarter of cyber security workforce

Women in cyber security are younger, have achieved higher levels of education and are assuming leadership roles at higher rates than men, a study shows

Women now make up almost a quarter of the cyber security workforce, according to a study that uses a more accurate methodology, claims (ISC)² – the world’s largest non-profit association of certified cyber security professionals.

Past (ISC)² research had estimated the percentage of women working in cyber security at 11%, but with a change to research methodology – including surveying IT/ICT professionals who spend at least 25% of their time on cyber security responsibilities, the estimate has risen to 24%.

While the stronger representation of women in the cyber security workforce is encouraging, (ISC)² said the 2019 Women in cyber security report indicates that challenges such as wage inequality remain.

“The data confirms what we’ve been seeing for the past few years on the ground. More women are coming into the field of cyber security with post-graduate degrees and not only working in the trenches, but also in the C-suite,” said (ISC)² CEO David Shearer.

“Women in high-level positions will foster more inclusion and inspire young women to join the industry, and there are certainly many exciting opportunities available for those seeking to inspire a safe and secure cyber world. Diversity only makes us stronger.”

Signs of progress

The data shows that the newest generation of professional entrants into cyber security is more female than in the past, with 45% of women being millennials, compared with just 33% of men. This is expected to change the face of the cyber security profession in the years to come.

Women also bring higher levels of education to cyber security, the study shows. More women (52%) in the survey hold a post-graduate degree compared with just 44% of their male counterparts.

The report also found that although men still outnumber women in cyber security by about three to one overall, women in the field are advancing to leadership positions. According to survey respondents, higher percentages of women than men are attaining senior leadership and decision-making positions.

Among chief technology officers, 7% are women, while 2% are men. In the role of vice-president of IT, 9% are women, while 5% are men. Among IT directors, 18% are women while 14% are men, and women make up 28% of those in C-level or executive roles compared with 19% for men.  

“It’s an encouraging sign that more women are succeeding in cyber security and moving up through the ranks,” said Jennifer Minella, vice-president of engineering & security at Carolina Advanced Digital and chairperson of the (ISC)² Board of Directors.

“For many years this hasn’t been the case, and we need to continue to do all we can to make ours a welcoming profession for the most talented and innovative individuals, regardless of gender,” she said.

Challenges remain

While there is evidence of progress as more women enter into and succeed in the field of cyber security, the report also indicates that pay inequities persist.

The data shows that 17% of women globally reported annual salaries between $50,000 and $90,000 compared with 29% of men, and 15% of women earn between $100,000 and $499,999, while 20% of men earn at least that much.

The report indicates that despite these differences, men and women share a lot of the same concerns about their roles, including lack of commitment from upper management, the reputation of their organisation, risk of seeing their job outsourced, lack of a good work/life balance, the threat of artificial intelligence (AI) reducing the need for cyber security workers, and a lack of standardised cyber security terminology to communicate effectively within their organisations.

Results presented in the report are extracted from the 2018 Cyber security workforce study, conducted by (ISC)² and Spiceworks in August 2018.

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