Women account for just 10 percent of the information security workforce, a new report shows, but are making progress in governance, risk and compliance jobs.
The absolute number of women in cybersecurity jobs has been growing, but they're not even keeping up with the growth of the industry as a whole, according to a report released earlier this month by research firm Frost & Sullivan. In 2013, women made up 11 percent of the global information security workforce.
The report, based on a survey of 14,000 infosec professionals, was sponsored by International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC2) and Booz Allen Hamilton.
"This is very frustrating given how much growth there has been in the industry," said Julie Franz, director of the ISC(2) Foundation. "We're barely keeping pace."
When it comes to management positions women do slightly worse, accounting for 9 percent of senior leadership roles.
By comparison, in business in general, women make up 22 percent of all senior leadership roles, according to this year's Women in Business report by Grant Thornton International.
Women leaders in information security also tend to be older, according to the Frost & Sullivan survey. While only 29 percent of male leaders are 50 years old or over, 43 percent of women are.
And both women leaders and practitioners are better educated, on average, than their male counterparts. According to the survey, 58 percent of female leaders had advanced degrees, compared to 47 percent of men. And 48 percent of women practictioners have masters or doctorates, compared to 40 percent of men.
Governance, risk and compliance shows promise for women
The bright spot for women in information security is GRC, where women account for 20 percent of governance, risk and compliance roles.
"The GRC role was, until the events of 9/11, a relatively obscure role in infosec," said Michael Suby, Frost &Sullivan's vice president of research, in the report. "Now, however, not just women but also men recognize the rising importance of this role and other roles concentrated in managing business risk."
A panel of women infosec leaders organized to supplement the survey said that women leaders are more likely to have skills related to diffusing emotions, collaborating across multiple stakeholders and balancing business objectives with risk management. These are all skills important in GRC and other risk management roles.
For example, Julie Talbot-Hubbard, associate vice president for IT engineering, infrastructure and operations at Nationwide, said that she took on a GRC and continuity planning role at a prior employer because of a general lack of interest in the job, and a need for it.
"People had to be dragged into it," said Renee Hodder, information risk management consultant at Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, in the report. She also got involved in the function because nobody else was interested in leading it, she added.
"9/11 was a big turning point," confirmed ISC(2) Foundation's Franz. "That is when that role around GRC became extraordinarily important. Those roles opened up, but by and large the men didn't want them... The guys might be just more rooted in the technical aspects and the GRC role requires a lot of dealing with different types of people, and with interdepartmental and cross-functional operations."
Angela Messer, executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, added that women often come to information security with more diverse backgrounds than men, and this is a benefit in GRC.
"You're going into roles that are more complex, you're dealing with the business side and not just the technical side," she said. "It's a very strategic role, and women bring not just their technical skills base but also the diverse skills that they have."
Money isn't everything
In the report's salary section, Frost & Sullivan concentrated specifically on the respondents in the United States, working in GRC, in order to minimize the number of variables that can distort analysis.
And, despite their higher levels of education, women made, on average, 4.7 percent less than men. One contributing factor was that men's tenure was 5.6 longer in infosec than that of women.
But there were two other factors that came out in the survey. One was that women valued non-monetary compensation higher than men did, and the other was that women stayed longer with their employers.
For example, flexible work schedules were very important to 78 percent of female respondents, compared to 58 percent of men, while more men than women prioritized total compensation.
Last year, 20 percent of men reported that they changed employers while still employed, compared to 12 percent of women. This correlated to higher salary gains.
"You make those biggest jobs in salary when you switch positions, and women are switching less," said Franz. "You need to move to earn."
The problem, she said, is that it's still more common in marriages to move for the husband's career rather than the wife's.
"Or you're raising a family, you don't want to move the kids or drag them across the country," she added. "Consequently that's having an effect on the aggregate salaries long-term."
Companies need to be extra careful to address the wage gap, said Booz Allen's Messer.
"We scrutinize that -- is there parity here?" she said. "We are very pro-active, not passive on that. All corporations have to be and leaders have to be very engaged to be conscious of it."
Education pipeline the biggest challenge
According to the National Student Clearninghouse Research Center, the proportion of women earning undergraduate degrees in computer science fell from 37 percent in 1984 to just 18 percent in 2014.
Girls start making decisions about pursuing science and technology as far back as kindergarten, said ISC(2) Foundation's Franz.
"And something happens around middle school where girls get less interested in STEM topics," she said. "We know this from all kinds of data that's been studied."
Franz suggested that one explanation is that people are either interested in working with people, or in working with things.
Law and medicine, for example, are both extremely demanding careers that have no problems attracting women.
"These are jobs that are perceived to be around people," she said.
Technology needs a major rebranding, she said.
"Our focus seems to be on things," she said. "We're trying to secure things. When you talk to young women, they don't like a lot of the language around capture the flag competitions because they're all about things. About war."
But that's not what attracts women to cybersecurity, she said.
"When we ask younger women what makes them interested in the job, it's that they want to protect people," she said. "I think there needs to be a branding shift that needs to happen in the industry."
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There's a whole generation growing up that is looking for more purpose in their careers, said Booz Allen's Messer.
This past summer, Booz Allen launched a new initiative, STEM Girls 4 Social Good. The kickoff project, a partnership with Girls, Inc. was a week-long camp where 40 girls investigated the problem of human trafficking by learning data science techniques.
"The idea is that we're protecting people, protecting the community, protecting the nation," Messer said. "And young women were interested. If we could pivot and talk about cyber like this, we could get more women -- and more young men -- focused on this field."