Opportunities for Women in Cybersecurity

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Even though jobs in cybersecurity pay well, far fewer women go into the field than men. According to the 2020 (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Study, gender disparities persist around the globe. The highest percentage of women cybersecurity professionals is in Latin America, with 40%, while in North America the figure is just 21%. The results in Europe and Asia-Pacific are at 23% and 30% respectively.

Cybersecurity isn't all about becoming a code jockey; critical thinking skills, curiosity, and problem-solving abilities go a long way toward success in the field. And because of the ongoing talent shortage, salaries in cybersecurity are high. According to PayScale, the average base salary for a cybersecurity analyst ranges from $64,235 for entry-level positions to $112,984 for experienced pros.

Much has been written about the demand for cybersecurity skills, yet the (ISC)2 study shows that we're still lacking 3.12 million professionals. Interestingly, according to a Fortinet ransomware survey, after experiencing a ransomware attack, almost 50% of organizations surveyed invested in more cybersecurity resources. Women make up 51% of the population, which means there's a tremendously underutilized pool of resources out there.

Where Are All the Women?

A question that is often asked is why there aren't more women in cybersecurity? One reason is perception. To this day, the media continues to perpetuate the old stereotype of the male hooded hacker pounding on a keyboard all by himself a dark room. That lonely guy doesn't look like someone you even want to know, much less follow in his employment footsteps.

Another often-cited issue is the lack of female role models and encouragement to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. Many women simply haven't met anyone working in the field of cybersecurity. It's difficult to imagine doing a job you don't know much about. Research done by Girls Who Code showed that although 74% of middle school girls express interest in STEM subjects, only 0.4% of high school girls choose to major in computer science.

Additionally, many people are under the impression that you need to be a math whiz or programming genius to have a career in cybersecurity, but according to Sarah Ryba – a network engineer at Liquid Networx who I recently had a discussion with about women pursuing STEM careers – what you really need is a love of learning new things. She pointed out that, "Technology is constantly evolving and advancing. There's always more to learn and excel in, and I really like that aspect of the field."

Sarah was the gold medal winner in the 2021 Fortinet Ultimate Fabric Challenge, which demonstrates skills and expertise in cybersecurity. She has a Fortinet Network Security Expert (NSE) level 7 certification and is currently working on a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity. About her career choice, she says, "In weighing the options I had, cybersecurity provided unlimited growth, variety, challenges, and more importantly it was something impactful that I could contribute to." Like Sarah, there is an opportunity for women to explore a career in STEM, specifically cybersecurity, and women shouldn’t let stereotypes or misperceptions deter them from pursuing this path.

New Career; New Opportunities

As the pandemic wears on, many people are reevaluating their work choices. Employers are complaining about labor shortages in everything from restaurants to customer service and research. Reasons for the Great Resignation of 2021 often relate to employee desires for more flexibility, money, and job satisfaction. Gallup even goes so far to say that the Great Resignation is Really the Great Discontent; their survey showed that the reason people are leaving jobs in droves isn't related to any particular industry, role, or pay. The highest quit rate is among "not engaged and actively disengaged workers."

Women can play a large role in closing the cybersecurity skills gap that continues to challenge organizations. If you're wondering if cybersecurity is for you, it's easy to find out if similar to Sarah Ryba, you find the topics interesting by signing up for free courses offered through the Fortinet NSE Training Institute. Sarah says, "Aside from providing a sense of accomplishment, the courses drastically expanded my knowledge base not only on Fortinet products, but on security in general. There's been countless occasions where the NSE material has propelled my investigative abilities and facilitated problem solving."

If you're a woman just entering the workforce or considering a career change, Sarah offers one final word of advice, "Most importantly, never let anything deter you from your goals. If cybersecurity is the path that you want to go down, focus and perseverance is essential."

The potential is there; all you need to do is take the first step.

Find out more about how Fortinet’s Training Advancement Agenda (TAA) and NSE Training Institute programs, including the Certification ProgramSecurity Academy Program and Veterans Program, are helping to solve the cyber skills gap and prepare the cybersecurity workforce of tomorrow.

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