September 5, 2016 By Whitney Sizemore 3 min read

There are 7.3 billion people in the world; 3.5 billion of those are women. So why do women have to endure a gap in both pay and opportunity in the security industry? What can we do to teach the future women in security to shoot for the stars?

According to a study by National Center for Women and Information Technology, women hold only 25 percent of professional computing occupations in the U.S. workforce.

IBM Leads the Way for Women in Security

So how are major companies like IBM combating this gender gap? Business Insider reported that firms are hiring women at a 60:40 clip to gain more women in the field. Some companies even offer incentives, such as a signing bonus or more vacation days, to encourage more women to sign contracts with them.

For many years, IBM strove to recognize women. It recruited 25 female college graduates in 1935, and Ruth Leach Amonette became IBM’s first female vice president in 1943. The company has also been recognized by the National Association of Female Executives for its positive impact on the careers of women in the U.S.

Off the Beaten Path

What kind of degrees do women in security need to succeed in the industry? What does a typical career path look like, and how does one get started in technology?

Dimple Ahluwalia, a partner at IBM responsible for the North America Security Consulting and Systems Integration business, offered some advice as to what students — particularly women — should pursue in school. “Regardless of their major, I recommend for all students to take an introduction to IT security/cybersecurity course,” she said. “With a broader view, they can then define a path that meets their area of interest for further study.”

Ahluwalia continued, “For those that prefer a technical path, there are plenty of options: security testing/ethical hacking, security forensics, network security, endpoint security, security threat intelligence and operations, secure software development and more. Similarly, the options are plenty for students that are more business and/or process-minded, with areas such as IT security risk, security strategy and governance, data and application security, and identity and access management.”

Like anyone, Ahluwalia had to work hard to get where she is today. She has an undergraduate degree in marketing and a master’s degree in international business. She started as an intern working as part of a marketing team for an enterprise software vendor, and in the decade-plus since has performed different roles in product marketing and marketing communications for various technology companies.

Ahluwalia said these roles allowed her to hone the business management, problem-solving, crisis management and communication skills needed to transition easily into a new career path as a customer support executive at an enterprise security software company.

Diversity Enables Innovation

It’s encouraging to see that women can be successful in the security industry even without an IT degree; it’s all about drive and determination. So why should women pursue this career path?

“Security remains a growth area, and career opportunities are vast,” said Ahluwalia. “With more women entering the security field, there would be greater diversity of thought. And diversity contributes to developing innovation, which is needed to help clients safeguard their business.”

It’s important for women to step up and hold their own in this evolving, technology-driven world. Not everyone will be as successful as Ahluwalia, and not everyone will choose the same career path, but you can carve your own path to success. Don’t be afraid to pursue technology. I can assure you, there is a place for you.

IBM Careers

If you are interested in building a career in security, visit the IBM Security careers page. To keep up to date with our career opportunities and other IBM news, connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Discover what you can do at IBM.

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