Last week, Melinda Gates announced she would be building a personal office dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology jobs and careers. Gates points out the decline in the number of women studying computer science now (18%) compared to in the 1980’s (37%) and the “leaky pipeline” that starts in school but that extends through the corporate world.
Within some specific areas of technology, women are particularly unrepresented. For example, women hold only 25% of all computing occupations. Even more dismal numbers exist in the cybersecurity field, where women comprise only 10% of the workforce and women of color hold even fewer cybersecurity roles.
In an industry that is 90% male, Shamla Naidoo, the Chief Information Security Officer of IBM stands out. IBM currently ranks 7th on Fairygodboss’ list of best tech companies for women, as rated by female employees. More than half of the women reviewing IBM say they are treated equally to men at the company. Therefore, it may not be surprising that Naidoo points to an inclusive workplace culture as a key to improving the numbers of women in her field. Specifically, she told me, “We need to be thoughtful in creating a working culture that is welcoming for women and represents their interests.” Moreover, she believes that change needs to happen through education and role modeling by industry leaders.
As Melinda Gates points out in her explanation for focusing on the gender gap in tech, there is a real opportunity for women to capitalize on technology industry trends for personal career growth. When it comes to the pure number of available jobs, the cybersecurity sector is booming and is one of the fastest growing sectors in tech. It’s also one where workers can command an average salary premium of nearly$6,500 per year, or 9% more than other IT workers.
Companies can’t find enough workers to keep pace and the cybersecurity industry is facing a shortfall of 1.5 million open and unfilled positions by 2020. This talent shortage — and the fact that businesses are more successful when they leverage the perspectives women bring to work — may be part of the reason that companies seem to be investing in both the retention of their female technology staff as well as trying to recruit more women in cybersecurity.
IBM, for example, has a program called Women in Security Excelling (WISE) with nearly 800 global participants. The program aims to get more women engaged with security at IBM, with targeted educational opportunities, leadership training and highlighting women as role models. The company also offers high school programs to drive STEM education in underrepresented communities and partners with hundreds of universities around the world, using targeted cybersecurity training and recruitment to teach young people about careers in cybersecurity.
Ultimately, Naidoo told me she has three pieces of advice for women interested in a career in cybersecurity:
- Find meaningful work. Discover your passion and follow that line of work. It is easier to excel at work that you love.
- Choose your roles wisely. The cybersecurity field offers many roles from business strategy, technology selection or implementation, big data/analysis, fighting crime, to legal and government work. Pick the ones that are appropriate for you and recognize that you can easily build on the role in this field.
- Seek out role models. Build a network of knowledgeable people who will advise you, celebrate your successes with you and importantly, who will help you to stand tall when you fail.
Naidoo’s advice seems sensible but there may also be one more important factor. With an alarming 56% of technical women dropping out mid-career due to negative workplace experiences, it seems that your choice of employer and luck in (or pursuit of) getting a supportive manager also can play a huge factor in whether you will find longevity and success as a woman in tech.
In the meantime, the high-growth cyber security industry will create many opportunities in the coming decades, so women with an interest in the area should be sure to explore it . This is an example where individual women chasing higher compensation can cumulatively help close the “great cyber divide” for women and minorities in the field!
Georgene Huang is CEO and co-founder of Fairygodboss, a career and job community for women, by women.