Women in cyberIn the cyber security industry, a glaring gender disparity exists.

In Canada, the typical cyber security team is only 29 percent female. Meanwhile, the global cyber security workforce faces a shortage of 2.7 million professionals worldwide. Despite the rapid advancements in technology, the representation of women in the field remains persistently low.

Yet, the lack of women in cyber security isn’t just a gender issue—it's a global security concern. To address the talent shortage in this critical field, it’s imperative that more women join the workforce. As cyber threats continue to evolve, we must proactively dismantle the barriers that have historically sidelined women for far too long.

How Big is the Gender Gap in Cyber Security?

One reason behind the gender gap can be traced back to early childhood education. UNESCO found only 31% of female students choose to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In addition, graduates in ICT (Information and Communication Technology) courses had 4 times more men compared to women.

Unsurprisingly, the lack of women taking up the field has exacerbated gender disparity. According to the United Nations, women account for 39% of the STEM workforce and a mere 25% in cyber security.

Why are women underrepresented in cyber security?

Several factors contribute to the underrepresentation of women in cyber security:

  • Wage gap: The Boston Consulting Group reports that 32% of men in cyber security earn $50,000 to $100,000 per year, but only 18% of women share that same income bracket.
  • Gender-based discrimination: A large majority of women (87%) experience discrimination and unconscious bias at work in the form of disproportionate responses to mistakes (29%) and delays in career advancement (53%).
  • Inadequate representation in leadership roles: Only 21% of women hold leadership roles. A scarcity of women in upper-level management positions means there's a lack of female role models and mentors.
  • Balancing family and career: According to the Boston Consulting Group, 37% of women believe it is difficult to achieve work-life balance in the industry. Long hours and demanding work schedules make it seem difficult to balance their career and family aspirations.

This lack of gender diversity is not merely a statistical quirk but a systemic issue that stems from deeply ingrained societal biases and cultural stereotypes. Addressing the gender gap in cyber security requires actively dismantling the barriers that discourage women from entering the field.

How to Encourage More Women To Enter The Cyber Security Industry

Let’s be clear: getting more women into the field is not just about solving the numbers game. Having a diverse workforce—with a variety of experiences, skills, and viewpoints—is an invaluable asset in a field that requires creative and multifaceted solutions to tackle complex issues.

Here are some strategies that can help organizations dismantle barriers.

Early exposure and education

Fostering an interest in tech begins in early childhood.

Schools can play a pivotal role in influencing female students. For instance, they can create inclusive and accessible STEM curriculums. They can even establish cyber security clubs where students can explore cyber security concepts, engage in hands-on learning, and collaborate on projects. Likewise, cyber security organizations can host or support hackathons, workshops, and competitions.

Unlocking opportunities for women in cyber security through financial aid

Financial barriers often prevent women from pursuing advanced degrees and certifications in cyber security. Scholarships and financial support opportunities can help alleviate financial obstacles and increase the representation of women in this critical field.

Through partnerships with organizations like Women in Tech Alberta and The Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST), we aim to help women break into Canada’s tech ecosystem.

Mentorship opportunities

Mentorship is vital for career development, skill acquisition, and navigating the unwritten rules of any profession. In male-dominated STEM professions where women, and particularly BIPOC women, are often underrepresented, the scarcity of relatable role models and mentors can be especially detrimental. Without mentors who have experienced similar biases, stereotypes, and obstacles, women can struggle to find guidance and support that speaks directly to their circumstances.

The lack of diverse mentors can perpetuate a cycle in which women may feel isolated and unheard. They often grapple with imposter syndrome and microaggressions, which can erode their confidence and motivation. Having mentors who understand these experiences and can offer empathetic guidance is crucial in retaining talent in the tech industry.

Employers can also partner with educational institutions to help aspiring professionals bridge the gap between academic knowledge and practical skills. To really move the dial, it’s important to offer internships, co-op programs, and hands-on experiences that provide women with a taste of real-world cyber security challenges.

Changing recruitment strategies

Dr. Natalia Stakhanova, associate professor of computer science at the University of Saskatchewan, asserts that giving women recognition is key. Awards, conferences, and media coverage awarded to female leaders can inspire others to follow suit.

“There are many ways to make them feel welcomed, one of which is simply showing that they are just as knowledgeable and skilled as the men,” she said in an interview with The Globe and Mail “You [can] reach out to them in class or in person when their work is good [and] let them know that there are career opportunities for them in this field.”

Closing the Gender Gap in Your Organization

When it comes to closing the gender gap in your cyber security teams — be proactive in seeking out female candidates and include them in every hiring round. Offer internships and mentorships so women have real-life opportunities to solve cyber security challenges. Providing interest and fostering interest among women in tech is key to closing the gender gap in any organization.

Looking to hire for entry-level cyber security positions?

Partner with Lighthouse Labs to empower students with highly-sought after skills from underrepresented communities to break into the cyber security industry. With our Wage Subsidy Program, you can get access to funding that can partially or even fully cover wages and other employment-related costs of new hires that add value from day one. Learn more about the Wage Subsidy Program.