The Upside of the Skills Gap: A Chance for More Women to Enter the Security Industry

Back in my engineering days between 2002 and 2006, when I was trying to get into a core industry during my final year as an electronics and instrumentation graduate, a few companies didn’t even allow women to sit for interviews.

Although I managed to grab a place in the list of selected candidates for a reputed manufacturing unit by the end of the year, the package offered was far less than what a graduate could expect. The company cited reasons such as night-shift allowances for the disparity between the salaries offered to women and men. Keeping in mind the pay, the location of the plant in the interior of the city and the lack of growth opportunities available, I decided to forego the offer.

Core Technology in India didn’t become infamous for patriarchy without reason. Until just a few years ago, disparity in job opportunities demotivated many young women from seeking technology jobs. At the same time, the security industry has increasingly felt the pinch of a skewed supply-demand equation.

A Discouraging Disparity

Indeed, the security industry has a severe dearth of professionals and millions of open positions are going unfilled. According to an ISC2 report, the shortage of skilled IT professionals is expected to reach 1.5 million unfilled positions by 2020. A survey by specialist recruiter Robert Half, meanwhile, found that cyberattacks in Singapore are increasing, with 72 percent of chief information officers (CIOs) detecting more cyberattacks now than 12 months ago.

A small effort to channel the right talent at the right time and create equal opportunities for women can help solve a lot of woes for this industry. The number of women in technology has been increasing, albeit very slowly. In fact, women represent only 10 percent of the current security workforce. It is imperative to address the paucity of talent in this field. As a first step, leaders within the industry should analyze the reasons for this gap and work toward changing them.

The need for skilled workers isn’t going away: With increasingly evasive cyberthreats, incident response is already on the top of the demand list for professionals. Besides, the ubiquitous growth of mobile and cloud services, as well as the increasing need for security technologies, has laid the foundation for improved threat detection and advanced analytics. The rise of cloud security has also created additional roles in the security industry, and women may be the answer to filling these positions.

Bridging the Skills Gap

While the security skills gap is not gender-specific, there’s no question that representation of women in this field is abysmal. Many believe the gap exists because women are not interested in these fields as much as their male counterparts. The truth is that sometimes, even with the right education and intent, a prospective security professional is unable to reach the right destination due to lack of guidance at the right time.

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According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, women earn approximately 60 percent of associate’s degrees, 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 59 percent of master’s degrees and 50 percent of doctorate degrees. So women are making up more than half of the field of qualified candidates — does this mean that right guidance and not eligibility is the hindering factor behind the low number of women opting for the security profession?

Sometimes, practical experience offers better insight than any set of statistics. The numbers mentioned above prove that, besides the obvious solution of promoting girls to take up science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), we need companies to be increasingly cognizant of the unconscious bias that exists between males and females when hiring, retaining and promoting their workforce.

Changing the Culture

A culture of nonbias would pave the way for a healthier work environment, which, in turn, would lead to a better male-to-female ratio in the teams promoting productivity. Research revealed that increasing the presence and responsibility of women is correlated with improved company performance. Besides, there is a connection between representation of women in leadership positions and corporate returns. According to a London Business School study, teams with equal numbers of men and women are more likely to experiment, be creative, share knowledge and fulfill tasks.

Channeling the right talent in colleges and universities through appropriate partnerships is another great leveler. This enables budding professionals to build on the right skills while getting much-needed guidance to take their careers to the next level. It is imperative to bridge the gender gap at an early stage to ensure that the best talent is absorbed.

The Asia-Pacific region is already making efforts in this direction. While IBM launched a new training center, Temasek University, in Singapore in 2015, one of the most coveted universities in India, Delhi University, is preparing to offer a master’s in cybersecurity to address the dearth of security skills in that country. IBM is also working with over 300 other universities on various cybersecurity skills training and recruitment initiatives to bridge the huge skills gap and shape the modern security landscape.

Exploring Possibilities

For our partnership programs to work, it is very important to educate graduates about the possibilities that exist in various fields. Women should feel confident that the career options they choose will offer growth opportunities and success in the long term.

They should also be aware that when we talk about security as a career, it is not confined to just data security or hacking. In fact, it includes different facets of the security portfolio, such as preventing shoplifting in retail stores or access management. Hence, an understanding of the different subsets of the portfolio is also very important.

With increasing data and digital proliferation, the cyberattacks are only going to increase in complexity and impact. The same digital wave could also be a deciding factor in encouraging women to take up security as a career by informing them of available opportunities and enabling online certifications.

As a famous proverb goes, where there is a will, there is a way. Let’s aim to make the will of our future generations so strong that the way is within reach.

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Preeti Sahu

External Relations Specialist, IBM

Preeti Sahu supports Security and Global Technology Services business units at IBM as an External Relations Specialist and is responsible for churning out high quality content for the team in various formats. Her current role involves creating, editing and repurposing assets like press releases, blogs, executive announcements, byliners, social content etc to name a few. Her educational qualification includes MBA in Communications Management from Symbiosis International University and B.E. from Biju Patnaik Technical University. She has over seven years of professional experience spanning technology and communications.