Women Underrepresented in Cybersecurity

Women In Cybersecurity


Q4 2016

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The editors at Cybersecurity Ventures bring you the top top Women-In-Cyber stories written by our Contributors and submissions from industry experts.


Why Are Women Underrepresented In Cybersecurity Careers And What Can We Do?

tylercohenwoodembossTyler Cohen Wood

I will never forget the day in middle school when I did poorly on a math test and asked my teacher for help. She looked at me as if confused and said not to worry because I was a girl and math was more of a “boy thing”. Fast forward to 2016. I had assumed that the stigma of girls not being as good at math and science as boys had changed. However, I was proven wrong. 6 months ago, while helping my niece with her math and science homework, she told me that she hated math because it was for boys. But she was good at it, really good. I asked her why she felt that way and she just shrugged. I informed her that her Auntie Tyler happened to adore math and anything computer and science related and that she was great at it and shouldn’t let anyone tell her it was for boys. I was happy to see that the next time I visited she was very excited to tell me that math and science were her favorite classes in school. Perhaps this is the reason women are so under-represented in cyber-related fields. Maybe they just need strong female role models to tell them it’s okay to like computers and science-related topics.

In the past two years we have seen an explosion of businesses in all sectors getting hacked. Sometimes hackers compromise systems to steal and sell sensitive information like credit card numbers, user accounts, passwords or intellectual property. Sometimes the intent is to humiliate individuals within the hacked organization. Whatever the reason, we have a crisis on our hands. With more devices being Internet connected and the more we rely on these devices, it is not a matter of if you will be compromised digitally, it is a matter of when. And to compound the problem, we have fewer people choosing cyber security as a career upon graduation. In fact, according to a recently released study by CloudPassage, not a single top 10 undergraduate university made it a requirement for computer science majors to take a single computer security course.

As the hacking problem grows exponentially, less young people enter the field of cyber security and even fewer still are women, even though there are more women than men in the United States. It is vital that we figure out why young women are not interested in pursuing the cyber career space and work to solve the problem.

That being said, there are some groups that are taking on this challenge such as the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu (WSC). WSC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that is passionate about helping and empowering women to succeed in the cybersecurity field. I spoke with Courtney Lancaster, the chapter lead for the Baltimore WSC chapter, to gain more insight into this problem and what can be done to fix it.

Courtney is a Digital Forensics Subject Matter expert and spends her time working to grow and educate the Cyber Security community. She is currently Director of Training at Berla Corporation and has spent the last several years of her career focusing on Cyber Security Training. She has developed and delivered a number of Cyber Security courses throughout the community. Courtney also has a passion for mentoring women and has helped many women find their place in cyber as the Chapter lead for the Baltimore, MD chapter of Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu (WSC).

In 2016, Courtney was awarded The Cyber Innovator and Entrepreneurs award by Trending 40, and in 2015, the Cyber Educator award from WSC.

Courtney’s career began in the United States Navy in 2000 as a Cryptologic Technician. Additionally, she has worked at the National Security Agency conducting a multitude of assessments. Prior to that she worked for the Defense Cyber Crime Center (DC3) at the Department of Defense Computer Forensics Laboratory (DCFL).

When asked why she thinks more young women are not going into cyber security related fields, she suggested that it is a multifaceted issue:

“First off, there tends to be a stereotypical notion of what a cyber-security professional is. Secondly, there is a lack of accessible successful career role models for young women in this space, across the board. Third, there is a lack of opportunity awareness. In a career like law, there is an easy to understand trajectory of how you enter into that career. However, in cybersecurity, there are so many options and the trajectory is really all over the place without a clearly defined opportunity awareness for young women (and men) to follow. Unfortunately, there is also an intimidation factor for young women to go into a male dominated career. It can be scary to be one of the only women in your team and be outspoken. Education and awareness are really key to solving this issue.”

When asked about the influence of TV shows with women in cyber roles, Courtney laughed and told me that often times when students come to take her classes, they are shocked that she is not Abby from the TV show NCIS. Unfortunately, there is still a very clear stigma of what women in cyber are supposed to act and look like. It can be hard to break that mold but no woman has to adapt to anyone’s stereotypical notions.

I asked Courtney about what made her want to go into cybersecurity. “I was always interested in Cyber security, she said. “I also gained the confidence to make my own decisions from my military experience. Also, I was used to being in male dominated environments so I wasn’t intimidated.”

Courtney said that WSC helps women get into cyber careers by providing one-on-one mentorship programs so that young women get a clearly defined path and the confidence they need to achieve their goals. They also conduct monthly workshops and provide in-depth cyber career field awareness. There are also many networking opportunities where women get to meet other women in the field so that they can feel comfortable and reach back to this community for support and empowerment when needed.

These tactics really work. It can be hard feeling like the lone wolf, especially if you don’t fit the stereotype or stigma of what is expected of you and it helps tremendously to have the assistance of other successful women who understand and can offer that empowerment. I know that I will be joining.

Visit the Inspired eLearning Blog to read more from Tyler Cohen Wood.