Harassment and the Skills Gap: Improving Retention in the Security Community

October 5, 2021
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3 min read

Everyone wants to work with people who respect them. With the cybersecurity talent gap growing, employers need to show they truly value employees in order to keep them. Along with pay and benefits, a key way to do that is to show respect. That includes work policies that prevent harassment in the company culture.

The skills gap is still expanding. The Information Systems Security Association and Enterprise Strategy Group found in a cybersecurity skills gap analysis in 2021 that 95% of survey respondents believed the skills gap hadn’t improved in recent years. They traced this to a heavier workload (62%), unfilled positions (38%) and worker burnout (38%).

The skills gap is more than just a disconnect between employer demand and employee proficiency, however. It’s also a question of whether employers can retain people once they’ve hired and/or helped to train them. Indeed, approximately two-thirds of employers told the Information Systems Audit and Control Association that they were struggling to keep their trained cybersecurity personnel on board.

Using Respect to Help Solve the Employee Retention Problem

To address the employee retention challenge discussed above, employers need to show their commitment to their workers. That goes beyond providing their employees with training and other resources they need to advance their careers. It also extends to caring for those employees’ mental well-being by creating a workplace free of harassment and fear.

People in the cybersecurity job market don’t always feel such a workplace is open to them. Respect in Security partnered with Sapio Research to survey 302 industry professionals (male, female and nonbinary) across different age groups, organization sizes and seniority levels. About a third of that personnel said they’ve faced harassment online or in-person at 32% and 35%, respectively. Of the in-person cases, 48% occurred at work and 47% at work socials.

Victims revealed that they didn’t always want to share their stories, either. About one in 10 employees said they wouldn’t tell anyone if they witnessed or faced harassment themselves. Slightly fewer (7%) said that they would be too scared to speak up.

How to Address Harassment

In the survey, 82% of people said that their employer had a policy in place for receiving complaints of harassment. But nearly half (45%) said that they wanted their employer to do more to ensure that all employees understand those policies and grasp their duties for building a supportive workplace. About the same proportion (40%) said they wanted employers to be more transparent around acknowledging and looking into any potential complaints.

Employers can heed those calls for change by agreeing to sign the Respect in Security corporate pledge. The agreement asserts employers’ commitment to “eliminate harassment, to include all employees, partners, customers and interactions”. To do this, you can set up a program that functions like security awareness training initiatives. You can work to educate employees and contractors about what constitutes harassment, for instance. You can also make sure to review and update their policies on an ongoing basis. That way, employees and contractors can learn about how to report suspected problems using the right corporate channels — all in the knowledge that they will not be asked to work in unsafe conditions.

Confronting Harassment on an Individual Basis

Respect in Security works on the person-to-person level as well. Indeed, the group published materials to help people vocalize their support on their respective social channels. It also created a page with a link to The Cyber Helpline. Countering harassment comes not only in different forms but also in various stages. That’s why it’s important for victims of harassment to have access to a hotline where they can share their experiences and be heard.

David Bisson
Contributing Editor

David Bisson is an infosec news junkie and security journalist. He works as Contributing Editor for Graham Cluley Security News and Associate Editor for Trip...
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