Cybersecurity is more important than ever. With a skyrocketing number of cyber threats and data breaches, organizations are always on the lookout for ways to strengthen their online defenses. However, one major obstacle the cybersecurity sector faces is a lack of diversity and representation of women.

According to Cybersecurity Ventures research, only a quarter (25%) of global cybersecurity jobs were held by women in 2022. This number is expected to jump by only 5% by 2025 and only 10% by 2030 to reach 35%.  This represents a significant gender gap in an industry that is growing at a rapid pace.

Last year, a study claimed that while there has been growth in the global cybersecurity workforce, a record number (4 million) of cybersecurity professionals are needed to address the current skills gap. This means there is a very real opportunity for young female professionals to enter this industry.

Fighting stereotypes

The underrepresentation of women in cybersecurity may stem, in part, from societal stereotypes and norms. Traditionally viewed as male-dominated, the industry might discourage women from pursuing careers within it. Furthermore, there’s a notable lack of awareness and educational initiatives promoting cybersecurity as a viable career path for women.

Moreover, unconscious bias in recruitment processes has a role to play. Research indicated that, despite equal qualifications, men are often favored over their female counterparts for technical positions. It revealed that “when evaluating a female candidate, women and men STEM managers apply differential selection criteria, with men demonstrating implicit in-group gender favoritism in their hiring decisions.”

These biases can make it harder for women aspiring to build a cybersecurity career, exacerbating the gender gap.

Diversity fosters innovation

Why is it crucial to encourage more women to consider careers in the cybersecurity sector? Primarily, diversity fosters creativity and innovation. A team of individuals with different perspectives brings fresh ideas and novel solutions to the table, which, in turn, helps solve today’s complex challenges. In addition, women possess many softer skills that would benefit the cybersecurity industry, such as critical thinking, communication, attention to detail, and collaboration, among others.

And, given the ever-changing landscape of cybersecurity threats, a diverse workforce arms companies with the agility to keep a step ahead of evolving threats, enhancing their resilience and effectiveness when it comes to safeguarding digital assets.

The bottom line is that with the skills gap already sitting in the millions, having a broader talent pool to dip into has become critical.

Where to begin?

As with the majority of careers, there is no single path to entering the field of cybersecurity, and it does not necessarily require a degree. Yes, roles such as analysts, penetration testers, network engineers, and threat hunters need a level of technical expertise. Still, there are jobs in sales, marketing, support, training, and many more that need to be filled, too.

There are several steps businesses and the industry as a whole can take to help address the skills gap.

1. Build a culture of respect

Encouraging a welcoming atmosphere and fostering a culture of respect is at the heart of making the cybersecurity industry more inclusive. Current cybersecurity practitioners can actively contribute by advocating for cultural change, addressing biases, and promoting work-life balance through flexible arrangements and supportive policies for new mothers returning to work.

Similarly, implementing a zero-tolerance policy for sexism, harassment, and discrimination, alongside mechanisms for reporting and addressing such behaviors, is critical. Ultimately, cultivating an environment of respect, open communication, and collaboration benefits everyone, particularly in helping women navigate such a male-dominated space.

2. Expand pathways to careers in cybersecurity

Initiatives like GirlCode and Capture the Flag contests can help engage girls in cybersecurity early on and encourage them to pursue a career in cybersecurity—other initiatives, such as WiCyS and Code Like A Girl,  further study and career pursuit.

Government programmes like the UK’s CyberFirst Girls Competition and support through scholarships also have essential roles in promoting a more inclusive sector. All opportunities that provide opportunities beyond the usual college route, such as internships and apprenticeships, help grow practical skills and lower the barriers to career entry for girls wanting to start a career in cybersecurity.

3. Encourage mentorship

Mentorship is also important in supporting and guiding women entering the industry, helping foster career progression, and building role models for future generations. Programmes like the ITU’s Women in Cyber Mentorship Programme and Women4Cyber aim to help women better their skills and advance their cybersecurity careers at every level.

By providing support and guidance, these programs empower new entrants to the industry to develop into senior leaders, thereby creating a cycle of mentorship and inspiration.

4. Ensure gender-equitable compensation

Addressing the gender pay gap is crucial as well. ISC2 research showed that women in the cybersecurity industry are still fighting to get paid fairly, an issue that is not unique to the field, unfortunately. Globally, ISC2 said the gender pay gap stands at approximately 20%.

This disparity is a bitter pill to swallow in an industry that claims high wages are one of its major drawcards. It’s essential for women to feel that their contributions are as valued as those of their male counterparts, and frankly, this shouldn’t even be an issue today.

5. No more glass ceilings

Women must also look at a career in cybersecurity as offering opportunities for advancement to senior levels. Alongside growing female representation in executive positions, organizations should provide support for career development, taking into account the needs of those who may need to pause their careers for family-related reasons.

6. Broaden hiring criteria, consider internal talent

Human resources and hiring managers should adopt a holistic approach when it comes to evaluating job applicants and look beyond traditional accreditations and certifications. This will help them identify transferable skills, experiences, and aptitudes. After all, most skills can be taught, whereas the right attitude is with you for life.

Job descriptions should be amended to be more inclusive and appealing to a wider range of candidates, and companies should dive into internal talent pools and reach out to members of staff in other IT fields, such as data analytics, who may be looking for a change of scenery.

A safer future for all

Women have a role to play in their own advancement, too.  Those of us already established in cybersecurity can serve as mentors and guides for newcomers to the field. This not only steers them toward a career with promising opportunities for advancement and where their skills are urgently needed.

Ultimately, bridging the gender gap in cybersecurity is not about equality alone, but about using all the diverse talents and perspectives available to improve our digital defenses and ensure a safer, more inclusive future for everyone.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire.