Women in Cybersecurity: Why Diversity Matters

March 24, 2021
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3 min read

March is Women’s History Month, so it’s a perfect time of the year to look back and see how far women in cybersecurity have come. From pioneering tech to achieving a gender-equal future in today’s world, it’s a story of invention, strength and achievement.

A Brief History of Women in Cybersecurity

If you asked someone in the 1800s or earlier, few would have guessed we would have a world where women and men are allies in each and every field. Today, we see women making major tech advances and men extending full support wherever required.

The stepping stones for women in cybersecurity date back to the 1940s, when the computer industry was still in its nascent stage. Brave women called code girls cracked German and Japanese codes to help win World War II. It all started when letters appeared in the mailboxes of a select group of young women attending the Seven Sisters colleges. Chosen for their aptitude in subjects as math, English, history and foreign languages, these students were invited from various fields and offered to join the secretive wartime government project.

Code breaker Virginia D. Aderholt became the first American to learn that World War II had formally ended in 1945. She was one of 10,000 women who were the foremothers of who we now call women in cybersecurity. They worked behind the scenes of wartime intelligence.

Many women were among the first programmers who worked on the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer program at the University of Pennsylvania, calculating weapons trajectories in the 1940s. These women have led us all with their courage and grit and cleared the path for all of us. Since then, we have continued to conquer.

Women in Cybersecurity Today

We have overcome obstacles and achieved amazing successes today. When people see us succeed, they only see the glorious achievement and recognition that today’s women have. But what people fail to see is the hard work, persistence, sacrifice, failure and loss overcome throughout history.

Today, women comprise 24% of the cybersecurity workforce. They act as leaders in all fields, being role models and setting great examples in the workplace. All of this would not have been possible without the support and open doors that today’s women have received from their male counterparts.

Groups and Missions

That said, there is still a long way to go. An estimated $100 billion is lost every year in the U.S. alone, and roughly 508,000 jobs in the U.S. are lost every year due to cyber crime. With a global economic impact of $600 billion, cybersecurity is in dire need of more workers. On top of that, an increase in working from home has boosted the demand for protection for personal devices. The increase in the demand for flexible and agile online working spaces has opened a door to new potential security threats.

A number of groups and projects are already in place for boosting cyber awareness, gender diversity and equality. Women in Security Excelling, Women in Cybersecurity, Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu, InfosecGirls, Women in Technology, AnitaB.org and OWASP Women in AppSec are leading the field. These organizations have been working hard and passionately so that women in cybersecurity can freely share their wisdom with the world. They have provided much-needed impetus for women in cybersecurity to outperform and exceed in the mission of making a secure world. Programs are held globally to increase awareness among the younger generations — CyberDay4Girls program, CyberWeekforFamilies and WICYS Student Chapter, to name a few.

Why Having More Diversity Matters

Our industry is still in need of a large and diverse workforce. We need experts more than ever to educate people. After all, that knowledge is the key to making our world secure.

But no matter how secure a system is built, there is always one weak link: humans. We’re easy prey for threat actors. It takes only one mistake to cause a breach that could be disastrous.

The answer to safer computing is having a diverse workforce. Diversity brings different perspectives and fresh outlooks to the table, which can change the status quo. It’s time to train and educate a diverse workforce that is gender-neutral and promises equal chances for all.

Women in cybersecurity need to support each other — sharing our thoughts, personalizing our brands, championing ourselves, connecting to colleagues, having wider reach and encouraging fellow women in cybersecurity to aim for bigger targets. From there, we can help keep the whole field safer.

Swati Tewari
Senior Advisory Consultant, IBM Security

Swati is a Cyber Security Professional at IBM's Global Security Practice GID Team, with 13+ years of extensive experience in designing solutions with Identit...
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