Women in Cybersecurity

The Current Trend

Despite intense growth in the field of cybersecurity, women continue to form merely a small minority of the cybersecurity workforce.  The industry currently boasts approximately one million available jobs, and the number is expected to increase to 1.5 million available jobs by 2019.  However, women only hold about one in every 10 positions[1] in the cybersecurity industry, constituting a meager 8-13 percent[2] of cybersecurity professionals overall.  Figure 1 below illustrates a comparison of the amount of women in computer science-related studies versus alternative fields:


A number of possible reasons have been suggested for the lack of women in the cybersecurity workforce.  For example, the information-security organization CREST discusses a deficiency in computer-science courses among secondary schools.[3]  Without proper exposure to the field, many women remain unaware of their opportunities.  Similarly, the workforce itself has witnessed a lack of mentorship that encourages women to pursue advancement in cybersecurity.[4]  Instead of encouragement, the National Cybersecurity Institute (NCI) argues that the marketing industry tends to use aggressive, more masculine terminology in relation to cybersecurity, selecting phrases such as “combat cyberthreats” or “fortify digital defenses”.[5]  The entertainment industry also tends to portray men more often than women in mathematical, scientific, or technical television and film roles.3  As a result, women may pursue fields that offer a more welcoming environment.

Cognitive Differences between Sexes

A rise of women can greatly improve the strength and innovation of cybersecurity research and development.  Studies have demonstrated that in some areas of the cybersecurity workforce, women may be a greater asset due to the neurological differences between males and females.  For example, the (ISC)2 organization found that in addition to performing comparably in technical skills, women exhibit better communication skills, the ability to identify vulnerabilities more quickly, and the production of more creative cybersecurity solutions than their male counterparts.4

Dr. Ragini Verma of the University of Pennsylvania also completed a study of male and female brains, using diffusion tensor imaging to illustrate cerebral patterns.  Figure 2 presents the results of the study:

Figure 2:  Male (Left) and Female (Right) Brain Activity[6]

Based on the diagram, Dr. Verma found that connections in the male brain (blue) tend to remain within each hemisphere separately, while those in the female brain (orange) utilize both hemispheres.  The results suggest that because each hemisphere of the brain controls one side of the body, men have greater motor skills than women do.  Conversely, the hemisphere crossover in the female brain gives women superior memory as well as social and multitasking abilities.6  Because diverse perspectives and solutions are in constant demand within the field of cybersecurity, women can bring freshness and innovation to the information-security community.

Solutions to Increase Female Participation

Many efforts exist today to inspire women and increase their presence in cybersecurity.  Organizations such as Women in Cybersecurity (Wicys), Systers, and NCI work to inform female students and employees of their potential in cybersecurity.  For example, NCI’s Initiative for Women in Cybersecurity (IWICS) offers various webinars, podcasts, and blogs that tell of female success stories, offer training, etc.[7]  Such organizations seek to encourage women to pursue computer science through reaching out to grade schools, holding cyber conferences, and using female-friendly marketing.

A vast array of scholarships also exist that specifically target women in computer sciences.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars are committed to helping women into technology-related fields of study with the goal of increasing female presence in the technology workforce.  The following are some of the scholarships that are available to women that pursue an education in technology:

  1. NACME Scholars (Block Grant) Program ($62,000)
  2. (ISC)² Women in Information Security Scholarship ($40,000)
  3. CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service ($22,500 Undergraduate, $34,000 Graduate)
  4. CTU Future Leaders in Technology Scholarship ($30,000)
  5. Information Assurance Scholarship Program ($17,000 Undergraduate, $22,000 Graduate)
  6. Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) Scholars Program at UMBC ($10,000- $22,000)
  7. Adobe Research Women in Technology Scholarship ($10,000)
  8. Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship & Excellence in Education Program ($10,000)
  9. Rebecca Gurley Bace SWSIS Scholarship ($5,000- $10,000)
  10. Women’s Cybersecurity Scholarship ($1,000- $10,000)
  11. Raytheon Women’s Cyber Security Scholarship ($8,000)
  12. Liberty Power Bright Horizons Scholarship ($10,000)
  13. NANOG Scholarship Program ($10,000)
  14. National Defense Science & Engineering Grant (Full Tuition)

While the number of women in the cybersecurity field remains rather low, current efforts to increase interest among women makes the future look bright.  The Cyber Operations, Analysis, and Research (COAR) group at Argonne National Laboratory holds a yearly summer program for high education students. This summer nearly half of the interns were female.  The presence of women in cybersecurity is beginning to rise, driving the efforts to continue encouraging women into the field.  Women can create a more diverse workforce not only for the betterment of their careers but also for the betterment of cybersecurity research and development.

This post was written by: Amanda Joyce & Jennifer Fowler

[1] Guibourg, Clara. “Women Make up Just 10% of the Cybersecurity Workforce.” Project Ada. N.p., 06 Sept. 2016. Web. 10 July 2017.

[2] Grandison, Tyrone. “Creating A Diverse CyberSecurity Program.” N.p., 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 17 July 2017.

[3] Dallaway, Eleanor. “Closing the Gender Gap in Cybersecurity.” CREST. N.p., 2016. Web 2 August 2017.

[4] “5 Important Facts about Women in Information Security Careers.” National Cybersecurity Institute. N.p., 28 July 2016. Web. 17 July 2017

[5] “Why Women are Crucial to the Future of Cybersecurity?” National Cybersecurity Institute. N.p., 14 August 2015. Web 2 August 2017.

[6] Verma, Ragini, Dr. “Vive la différence!” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 07 Dec. 2013. Web. 27 July 2017.

[7] “National Cybersecurity Institute’s: Initiative for Women in Cybersecurity (NCI’s IWICS).” National Cybersecurity Institute. N.p., 2017. Web 2 August 2017.