Why We Need More Female Cyber Warriors ASAP

In our 9–5 series, we talk to boss babes about their jobs and explore fields in need of more women. This week, we look into cybersecurity's gender divide

Women in cybersecurity: Actress Emma Watson attends the "Beauty And The Beast" New York screening at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on March 13, 2017.

Emma Watson is one of the latest women targeted by hackers who have threatened to leak her personal photos (Photo: Getty)

From the suspected hacking of the U.S. election to threats to leak a celeb’s personal pics, the need for cybersecurity is growing—but the number of women in this field is not.

Women comprise only 11 percent of the world’s information security workforce, according to a recent study—a proportion that has remained stagnant since 2013.

Let that sink in for a minute.

That means, in a room of 100 dudes, there would be less than a dozen women.

This stat is particularly concerning since experts estimate that in a mere three years, there will be 1.5 million jobs that need to be filled in cybersecurity.

“Almost everything we touch has a cyber backbone to it,” says Bonnie Butlin, co-founder of the Security Partners’ Forum (SPF) and the creator of the Women in Security and Resilience Alliance. She explains that as we become more reliant on technology, the need for cybersecurity has grown and expanded into different fields, creating a lot of new opportunity ranging from protecting personal data to guarding hospital databases.

Cybersecurity’s gender problem isn’t new, but the numbers from the recent report have renewed discussions about why diversity matters in this industry.

“An overreliance on any one background or perspective leaves an organization vulnerable to adversaries and threats that rapidly change—only diverse, multidisciplinary teams can rapidly respond and problem solve on the next challenge,” said Angela Messer, executive vice president of Booz Allen, the firm that sponsored the worldwide study. “It’s also a security imperative that our industry broaden access to talent by becoming better at attracting, retaining and empowering female cyber warriors.”

Women in cybersecurity: A portrait of Bonnie Butlin in a white blazer.

(Photo: Jenni Lewin Photography)

And these warriors have some serious battles to fight. According to the report, despite having a higher average rate of education, women in cybersecurity hold fewer positions of authority and get paid less than men.

Butlin says that in Canada, she’s seen a lot of effort being put into attracting young women into cybersecurity, but these initiatives are still new, and she wants to encourage women to see beyond the typical “techie” stereotype and realize the innovation involved with cybersecurity—and what women, in particular, can bring to this field.

Between the hacking and leaking of nude celeb photos (which has been so delicately termed “The Fappening,” because UGH) to the rise of revenge porn, Butlin explains that because women can play an especially important role in cybersecurity because these issues impact them disproportionately. 

Related: The Disturbing Rise of Revenge Porn

“When you start bringing women more and more into cybersecurity, you bring in a broader perspective, a more inclusive look at these problems and then you get richer solutions,” she says.

Not only that, but as cybersecurity grows and evolves, Butlin says that getting more women in the field today is important for tomorrow.

“We’re at the beginning of a new take on cybersecurity, how IT operates in our society, how automation is affecting us and there’s a lot of opportunity to shape how that transformation happens and that’s something that a lot of people aren’t necessarily made aware of,” says Butlin. “When you’re looking for a career or an education path and sometimes I think we lose sight of how much opportunity there is to actually shape the future.”

You heard her ladies. Time to get in (cyber) formation.

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