Women working in the male-dominated tech industry have proven their perspectives and leadership matter. We need more female role models and outreach to keep the momentum going.

Key Points:

  • Women have made great headway in the tech world, and research finds that female role models and the help of public and private entities can help keep the momentum going.
  • More women in tech is good for business and technological advancement.
  • Initiatives around the world are working to involve more girls in tech from a young age.

Women have long been underrepresented in STEM fields. Although women make up 48% of the U.S. workforce, less than one-third of scientists and engineers identify as female.[1] And an (ISC)² study found that women comprise only 24% of the cybersecurity workforce.[2]

It’s a self-perpetuating problem, in some respects. Kaspersky’s 2021 Women in Tech report found that 38% of women working in the IT and tech industry felt that a lack of female representation made them wary of entering the field. The research, involving 13,000 men and women working in IT, reported that only 10% of women in tech work in female-majority teams.[3]

Additionally, research from the Computing Technology Industry Association showed that 69% of women pursuing careers outside of IT indicated the main reason they didn’t pursue opportunities in IT was because they were unaware of them.[4] Kaspersky reported that almost half of women in IT had to find their role through their own research — versus being guided by their university or recommended by a peer — demonstrating that the onus is often placed on women to forge their own career paths.

One of the best ways for women to join the tech industry, according to Kaspersky’s research, is through female role models leading the way for other women in tech. Currently, only 19% of women said they were encouraged to go into tech by a female role model. By increasing that number, women can illuminate the benefits of a career in technology to other women and mitigate anxieties about joining male-dominated fields, leading the way by creating a network of support.

More Women in Tech Benefits Us All

It’s important to clarify why having more women in tech matters. And it’s not just about a performative desire to bump up diversity percentages — it’s beneficial for business performance and technology.

From purely a numbers perspective, many subcategories in the tech industry need more qualified professionals than are available. Cybersecurity specifically is facing a skills gap crisis, with over 3 million job openings globally.[5] A gender gap further narrows the pool of people pursuing the field. By encouraging more women to get into technology, we can help fill more empty positions and propel technological advancements for us all.

Additionally, diversity is crucial as we continue to develop complex technologies — like artificial intelligence and machine learning, for example — because all the biases and blind spots we hold as human beings get transferred into those technologies as we create them. In fact, research has found that facial recognition algorithms are disproportionately coded to and tested on white males, causing them to be less accurate on people of color.[6] One federal study on facial recognition systems found that black and Asian individuals are up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified by these technologies.[7]

That’s why diversity — in gender, race, geography, background, etc. — matters if we want to create technology that serves a diverse global population. Disparate backgrounds and perspectives are vital in tackling ever-evolving technological problems and threat landscapes.

Women Have Made Promising Headway in Tech

To be sure, women have made great progress in tech in recent years. A 24% female workforce in cybersecurity, for example, is significantly higher than the 11% reported in 2017.[8] We appear to be on the uphill. 

An (ISC)² workforce report on women in cybersecurity found that, compared to men, women in the industry tend to be younger and more educated. Nearly half of the women surveyed were millennials, versus one-third of men surveyed. By contrast, Generation X men comprise a larger percentage (44%) of the cybersecurity workforce than women (25%). And 52% of women hold a post-graduate degree, compared to 44% of men.

What’s even more encouraging is that proportionally, more women are reaching C-suite and other leadership positions such as chief technology officer, vice president of IT and IT director. The promising figures show that women have been successful in forging a path to management once entering the workforce.

Although many women still struggle with bias, wage gaps and other gendered issues, the (ISC)² report found that, in cybersecurity, women and men are performing similar work and report similar levels of job satisfaction. This is promising momentum as we continue to work towards a more equitable technology workforce.

The Path Forward

Attracting more women to the tech industry will require efforts from a range of entities, from current women in tech to governments, nonprofits, the private sector and professional and trade organizations. 

This work is already underway around the world. In 2017, Mimecast partner Palo Alto Networks worked with the Girl Scouts of the USA to create cybersecurity badges. The curriculum includes the basics of computer networks, cyberattacks and cyber hygiene.[9]

In Israel, Shift Community, jointly funded by the country’s Defense Ministry, the Rashi Foundation and Start-Up Nation Central, recruits high school girls with an aptitude for IT and helps nurture their skills by connecting girls with female mentors and hosting hackathons, training programs and simulated cyberattacks.

Spain and India created Women in Cybersecurity of Spain and CyberShiksaa, respectively, to support female cybersecurity professionals. And some tech companies, like IBM, have launched programs to develop women’s interest and confidence in pursuing technology careers around the world.

On a more granular level, organizations can take small but critical steps to attract more women to apply for tech positions. Recruitment efforts should engage with academic institutions with high female enrollment; job ads should be written so that female professionals feel welcome to apply; organizations should make sure women employees see IT as a viable option for internal career changes.

The Bottom Line

To get more women to pursue careers in tech, we must tackle the problem from multiple angles. Research shows the importance of female role models to make other women aware of job opportunities and tout the benefits of working in the lucrative industry. On a larger scale, it’s important that governments, academic institutions and the private sector work together to create pipelines to employment for young girls and women interested in tech careers — and maintain welcoming and equitable work environments once positions are filled. When we bring more diverse perspectives and background to the tech table, everyone benefits.

Mimecast will host a boardroom session on women in tech at our complimentary, half-day conference, Roadmap and Demo Day, on March 24. Join us to hear experiences and advice some of Mimecast’s own women in tech.

 

[1] “The Lack of Women in Cybersecurity Leaves the Online World at Greater Risk,” The Conversation

[2] “Women in Cybersecurity: Young, Educated, and Ready to Take Charge,” (ISC)²

[3] “Women in Tech Report: Where Are We Now? Understanding the Evolution of Women in Technology,” Kaspersky

[4] “Palo Alto Network Partners with US Girl Scouts on Security Skills,” Computer Weekly

[5] “Cybersecurity Skills Shortage Falls for First Time,” Infosecurity Magazine

[6] “Facial Recognition is Accurate, If You’re a White Guy,” New York Times

[7] “Federal Study Confirms Racial Bias of Many Facial-Recognition Systems, Casts Doubt on Their Expanding Use,” Washington Post

[8] “Women in Cybersecurity: Young, Educated, and Ready to Take Charge,” (ISC)²

[9] “Palo Alto Network Partners with US Girl Scouts on Security Skills,” Computer Weekly

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