According to a recent Aspen Institute study, women make up just 24% of the cybersecurity workforce. The question remains, what can be done to boost the numbers of women in the cybersecurity workforce and retain women who are in the industry?

Find a Mentor — or Become One

If your organization doesn’t currently offer a mentorship program, consider starting one. Even if there is no formal program, find someone in the job role you would like to learn more about and ask them to meet with you weekly for a specified period of time. Talk to them about the daily ins and outs of the job, formal or informal educational requirements, the technology used and anything else you are curious about.

Even if you are the only cybersecurity employee at your organization, finding a mentor to coach you on non-technical skills, like communication and leadership, can help you elevate your career. You can also reach out to a non-profit organization that has a solid program already in place, such as Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS), the Women Cybersecurity Society or the Executive Women’s Forum.

Take Advantage of Educational Initiatives to Gain In-demand Skills

In June 2021, the Biden administration issued an executive order to help boost diversity in the federal government. In response to this order, many educational groups are joining this movement to offer programs to help minorities learn new cybersecurity skills. For example, Code.org announced that it will work to teach cybersecurity skills to 3 million students over the next three years, and Girls Who Code will establish a micro-credentialing program targeting those historically excluded from the technology field, in partnership with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). There are also numerous scholarship programs available that focus on increasing accessibility to cybersecurity training and removing the cost barrier for entering the field.

Finally, many cybersecurity non-profits offer discounts on training platforms to students from diverse backgrounds. This is another way diverse candidates can get the skills needed to move into in-demand cybersecurity roles.

Reduce Unconscious Bias

If you are a human, you have biases. In a Kaspersky article on reducing bias without shame and blame, expert Dr. Fatima Tresh states, “Some of the most common forms of bias are around how we perceive and interact with others. For example, ‘affinity bias’ is our tendency to prefer others similar to ourselves. The negative impact of unconscious bias comes from acting on these biases. Affinity bias may lead us to unconsciously advantage others similar to us and disadvantage those we think are different. Research has shown unconscious bias is one reason women, minority ethnic and other groups are underrepresented in leadership.’”

Unconscious bias training can help employees identify and overcome biases that are holding your organization back from reaching its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals.

Support (and Retain) Women at Work

There are several actions an organization can take to retain women in the workforce. Providing opportunities for lateral career growth is an important first step. Management can leverage their existing employees’ talents by helping them to decide which job role they are most interested in and where their talents can be utilized. Additionally, organizations should assess salaries across their workforce to ensure fair and equitable pay is offered for the same job role. Finally, ensure your organization actively supports the women in your organization attending cybersecurity competitions and Capture the Flag (CTF) cybersecurity challenges. Events like this will help the women in your organization acquire the hands-on skills they need to be successful in the cybersecurity world.

It’s important to lift up minority voices in the cybersecurity and tech world. We should all be diligent in amplifying the voices of minorities in the tech and cybersecurity world, and we can work together to make the world a more inclusive place that celebrates diversity.

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