GRC Viewpoint

Closing the Gender Gap in Cybersecurity: Strategies for Recruitment and Retention

Today’s cyber threat landscape is evolving dangerously fast. And as companies strive to combat increasing threats, it’s evident that security teams require additional support. However, despite the ever-increasing need, the number of cybersecurity roles filled is still at an all-time low.

A consistent trend from this staffing crisis is the continued underrepresentation of women in these essential cybersecurity roles. Given the clear demand for experienced professionals, this discrepancy indicates a broader challenge in organizations’ capacity to effectively hire and keep diverse personnel.

To tackle this pressing concern, companies must rethink their usual recruitment approaches and create more innovative methods to bridge the gender gap in cybersecurity.

Employment Statistics in Today’s Cybersecurity Workforce

To guarantee long-term business stability, companies are increasingly investing in cybersecurity. Data from Statista Market projects that by the end of 2023, spending on cybersecurity will approach $162 billion. This trend suggests that businesses today are more inclined to bring on additional cybersecurity personnel.

However, the situation is more complicated than it appears. By the close of 2022, global reports indicated that over 3.5 million cybersecurity positions still remained vacant. So what’s causing this shortage?

While there are multiple variables to the cybersecurity staffing crisis, it’s important to look at another concerning trend that is no doubt playing a role in it – lack of diversity in recruitment. Historically, women have been underrepresented in many categories. However, the gender gap that continues to exist in technical professions like cybersecurity has been even more pronounced as of late.

According to a report by Cybersecurity Ventures, women only represent 25% of cybersecurity jobs globally. While this number is expected to increase very gradually over the coming years, this percentage split between males and females shows that many organizations still need work when it comes to building a more diverse company culture.

The Importance of Gender Diversity in Cybersecurity

Embracing diversity in cybersecurity fields is much more than an HR initiative. With so many nuances associated with both the technical and non-technical sides of cybersecurity work, having as many unique perspectives as possible is critical.

Below are some of the key reasons why diverse staffing can be a major step forward for organizations:

Diverse Perspectives in Problem-Solving

Diversity in the workforce can greatly enhance the organization’s ability to solve critical issues – and in cybersecurity, it’s no different. People have diverse mindsets, and research indicates that everyone has a unique way of tackling and resolving complex challenges like ransomware recovery. Though machines and AI are trying to emulate this ability, they can’t quite match the power of real human collaboration.

To effectively tackle today’s cybersecurity challenges, it requires a critical mindset and competing opinions. Balancing the gender percentages can significantly contribute to this diverse way of thinking. When teams look at security challenges from different perspectives, they can take points from each party and create a more holistic view of the appropriate solutions.

Enhancing Team Performance and Decision-Making

Effectively dealing with modern cybersecurity threats requires decisive action. And teams that are able to bring the right mix of strategies and experience to the table are far more likely to build more reliable systems. Creating a diverse team can significantly enhance this efficiency.

A Forbes study revealed that teams with varied gender and cultural representation tend to make better business decisions in up to 87% of all situations. They are also two times as fast to come up with successful resolutions and can do so while wasting half the amount of time in long meetings.

These statistics show that it’s just good business sense for hiring departments to focus on creating better gender diversity when establishing their workforce.

Best Practices for Improving Recruitment and Retention Strategies in Cybersecurity

While organizations can’t directly fix cybersecurity skills gaps that exist in part because of systemic issues, they can still work towards improving their own hiring strategies. This not only includes applying best practices when handling their recruitment, but also in how they actively work toward retaining great talent.

Filling the Talent Gap in Cybersecurity

The gender gap that is apparent in cybersecurity roles points to the fact that organizations may have underlying biases in their recruitment process. This isn’t to say that most companies are purposely avoiding hiring female security professionals, but that their priorities may be misaligned.

Given the past trends in hiring for cybersecurity, it’s understandable to find industry experience levels lacking between men and women. However, this doesn’t imply that women are any less competent in handling a particular role. Focusing too hard on past business experiences can distract an organization from considering the collective competencies someone can bring to a cybersecurity team.

Instead, companies should recognize that there are many soft skills and professional assessments that can point to a candidate’s success when conducting a SOC audit or compiling data analysis. By prioritizing these qualities and considering both men and women equally, organizations can start to chip away at the global talent gap in cybersecurity.

Create More Inclusive Job Descriptions

When trying to attract a wider, more diverse talent pool, it’s important to closely consider how you’re drafting company job descriptions. While it’s typically best practice for most HR teams to avoid gender-specific terms when describing the requirements of a role, it can be easy to draw the wrong conclusions if job descriptions aren’t carefully drafted.

Instead, focus more on specific skills required while also encouraging applications from individuals who may not have “all” of the qualifications listed. Although cybersecurity is a technical profession, finding individuals who are adept at learning and evolving their security knowledge over time is a quality worth exploring.

Provide Career Development and Leadership Opportunities

Career advancement in cybersecurity offers a wide range of opportunities, and there are multiple roads individuals can take. Consequently, it’s important for employees to feel like they have the freedom to enhance their skills and gain more experience without being held back. This type of career throttling can be particularly disheartening for women working in a predominantly male sector.

Highlighting the importance that personal career development makes a subtle statement that diversity is an important part of the company culture.

Allow for Flexible Working Arrangements

Oftentimes, organizations are hesitant to hire new individuals that don’t intend to work in-office. Even though the pandemic has made remote working much less of an anomaly, many companies still have their doubts. But there are many benefits to having an open mind to distributed teams.

With cybersecurity teams lacking in adequate support, offering flexible working arrangements helps widen the talent pool. This increases the likelihood of businesses finding the right match and encourages more candidates who otherwise might ignore a great opportunity.

Emphasize a Strong Company Culture

Even if your recruitment processes are in proper alignment, the experience employees have when working with existing staff members is crucial. Social biases are an unfortunate reality in modern-day working environments and this can be extremely detrimental to employee retention. If there is an imbalance in diverse representation within the company, it will often lead to isolated groups and discourage individuals from staying long term.

While organizations shouldn’t put the wrong people into the wrong roles to meet a certain statistic, they should be aware of the demographics that are contributing to their organization. A healthy mix of leadership is paramount when establishing company culture, and the more diverse teams are, the more everyone will feel like they’re an important part of it.

Create a More Inclusive Security Team

The challenges in cybersecurity aren’t getting any easier to tackle. But with the right approach to recruitment and employee retention, businesses can start closing the gender gap that has been challenging the industry for decades while building a reliable and inclusive cybersecurity team.

By Nazy Fouladirad, President and COO at Tevora

Nazy Fouladirad is President and COO of Tevora, a global leading cybersecurity consultancy. She has dedicated her career to creating a more secure business and online environment for organizations across the country and world. She is passionate about serving her community and acts as a board member for a local nonprofit organization.


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