Last month, Devon Bryan and Larry Whiteside, co-founders of the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity, hosted the first-ever National Conference of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals at the Historic Washington Plaza Hotel.
The shortage of minorities within the cyber community drives their passion to create more opportunities for women and majority minority groups to fill cyber positions. “While there is no surprise we face a serious workforce shortage in IT security and cyber, the numbers when it comes to the minorities involved is quite staggering,” said Whiteside.
Over the past few years, Bryan and Whiteside collected statistics and found that of the 14 million respondents they surveyed, “Less than 6% were below 30. The average age of security practitioners was 42, and women make up 10% of global workforce. That hasn’t really changed,” Whiteside said.
Women are not the only underrepresented groups, and while cyber security still has a problem at the gender level, there is also a lack of representation across multiple minority groups. Whiteside said as an African American, his focus is predominantly on how he can make the security industry attractive and alluring for African Americans.
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One strategy, Whiteside said, that will work to serve both young girls and minorities is that we need to have different a language. “Don’t run like a girl, is limiting language. She can never run as fast as a boy is another example. We need to look at how we are communicating with our kids,” Whiteside said.
Self-actualizing is critical to both emotional and intellectual development of young people. “As parents and adults, we need to give positive reinforcement of their potential. We need to evangelize how we are talking to our young,” Whiteside said.
There are long standing and limiting implications to these divisive adages that either intentionally or unintentionally close the door of opportunity to women and minorities. “The way we message our daughters, the way we push and drive them has historically been different,” Whiteside said. Certainly this idea was a truth for me and my siblings. Raised in the 70’s and 80’s my two sisters and I were indeed raised quite differently from the way my brother was raised.
Whiteside also recognized these almost engrained practices in his own parenting. He said of his children, “What I gave them was outside the norm of stereotypical upbringing, but my daughter still mentally gravitated away from STEM. In elementary, she convinced herself that she was not good at math. She’s a junior now in all AP math classes.” As a parent, he valued those STEM subjects as much for his daughter as he did for his son, and he sought out strategies to turn the tables for her. To rebuild her confidence even though she had convinced herself she couldn’t succeed.
“Societal pressures and expectations turn girls away. STEM classes are not the ones that the cool girls are interested in. We need administrators, counselors, teachers continue to push girls,” Whiteside said.
If cyber security is a national problem then the lack of talent and already few minorities and women needs to be a top initiative for the nation, Whiteside said. “If something doesn’t happen to create a precipice for change, the numbers are going to get worse,” he continued.
For minorities, it’s just as bad because a number are coming up in impoverished neighborhoods that don’t recognize the value of a STEM-based education. In many cases, Whiteside said, “Minorities don’t see education as a way of getting out. They don’t see STEM based fields as ones they can be extremely good at. They don’t see the applicability of math classes and critical thinking and how they apply to real world jobs.”
We need to talk about cyber security as a field and make it attractive. Everyone—from leaders in the industry to the newbies who are still finding their way—needs to create a stronger narrative of what this industry is, what is it about, and how much opportunity there is. A lot of career choices are motivated by money and the type of lifestyle they will be able to lead, and Whiteside said, “This career field is not only interesting but can be lucrative.”
It is not secret that cyber is white male dominated field, “But the goal of the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity is not just about blacks. It’s about all minorities and women,” said Whiteside because diversity and attracting different backgrounds and experiences will allow enterprises to make better and more informed decisions.
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