Several studies (from (ISC)2, Cybersecurity Ventures, etc.) have revealed that women make up only 20 to 25 percent of cybersecurity professionals. In the face of continuing worker shortages, it’s important to understand why women have such low representation in the industry. The following interview with Megan Gooch, Threat Research Manager at EclecticIQ, explores the barriers and opportunities that women encounter.
1. Why are there so few women in cybersecurity?
Good question. I've heard there are a lot of reasons why women are underrepresented in cybersecurity, and I'm not an expert on them. I can only speak for myself and describe what my impressions were before I joined the industry. Before I entered this field, I thought cybersecurity sounded intimidating. It sounded like a field that requires a technical background, which I've never had (my college majors were economics and Spanish). I didn't have a solid understanding of all the different career paths in "cybersecurity." Now that I work in the field, I'm learning that there are career paths that allow people with all sorts of strengths and educational backgrounds to succeed.
2. What do you see as the biggest hurdle to overcome in order for more women to pursue this career path?
Based on my experience, it's the mental block about science, math, and other technical topics that prevent women from thinking, “Not only could I be good at this field, but I'd probably really like it.” Some of us form those mental blocks early, and never get out of them. I remember in third grade, we had to make an electrical circuit in science class. I just didn't get it. It didn't make sense to me, and I was too shy to ask questions about it. Looking back, I see that after that day I started thinking science was my worst subject, and that attitude stayed with me.
3. How would you describe the opportunities for a woman in cybersecurity today?
I'd say there are opportunities aplenty, and they span a huge range of interests and skill levels. Like so many other careers, cybersecurity is all about problem-solving. I think this is a field where anybody can achieve great things, find professional and personal satisfaction in their work, and contribute meaningfully for future generations.
4. As more women enter the cybersecurity field, what could this change accomplish?
First, we wouldn't have the thousands of vacant cyber jobs that we have right now! That alone will make our industry stronger and better prepared to counter threats. Also, I think that with more people entering this field, our society’s awareness level about cyber threats and how to protect against them will naturally grow. We will better understand cybersecurity, how to use it, its limitations, and why it’s so important. Women will be essential to this effort, especially when it comes to educating kids who are growing up in a hyper-connected world.
5. What is your advice to women who aspire to enter the industry?
I love to run, and runners say that the toughest step in a run is the first one out the door. Getting into a new industry is the same! I'd say get moving toward your dream now - don't wait until you feel you're perfectly qualified for a cybersecurity job. Start out on any path you can, with the goal of learning as much about cybersecurity as you can. Know that your career may be decades-long; you'll move around; and your first job is just that: a start. Also, once you're in that first job, say yes to as many opportunities as you can—things like working on special projects, working with senior experts, and partnering with different parts of your own company or different organizations. You'd be surprised by the experience you get in those first few years!