BYU Pushes to Increase the Number of Women in Cybersecurity

Posted By Terri Williams on April 24, 2017 at 10:25 am
BYU Pushes to Increase the Number of Women in Cybersecurity

Only 14 percent of cybersecurity employees in the U.S. are women, according to The 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study by Frost and Sullivan. Even with that low number, the U.S. is doing better than the world as a whole when it comes to women in cybersecurity: Men make up 89 percent of the global cybersecurity workforce.

The study reveals more distressing news: Although 50% of women in cybersecurity have a graduate degree (compared with 45% of men), men are nine times more likely to be in managerial positions and four times more likely to be in C-suite and executive positions.

Brigham Young University wants to do something about those numbers. Last month, BYU defeated nine other schools competing in the finals of the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. The win qualified the BYU team, for the second year in a row, to compete at the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. The school placed third in the largest cybersecurity competition in the world for college students. More than 230 schools took part in the regional competitions that led to the national contest, sponsored by defense contractor Raytheon.

One other thing: BYU’s team is 50% women – the only team in the nationals to achieve that distinction.

How competitions help women in cybersecurity

BYU team member Sarah Cunha believes her experience participating in the competitions has increased her confidence as well as provided an opportunity to showcase skills that make her more marketable to employees. “Usually, there is a gap between the time a student graduates and the moment that they actually can be useful to a company or industry in security,” Cunha says. “With the type of exposure these competitions provide, that time is mitigated and students become more quickly valuable to the companies that they will work to help protect.”

In addition, Cunha says the competitions provide an opportunity to engage in relevant activities. “The strength of this type of competition is the ability to test and learn skills that are directly applicable to the very real-world problems industries are facing in cybersecurity.”

And the competitions provide another advantage – “a rare opportunity to not only practice securing all types of systems but to be able to see malicious attackers in real-time, how they act, and understand what kind of clues to look for to find and eliminate hackers.”

There’s definitely a shortage of cybersecurity professionals in the U.S., and the trend is expected to continue as criminals get bolder and smarter. “Now is the time for women to jump into the STEM workforce – if that is something they would be inclined to pursue,” Cunha says. “Jobs are opening and we are being sought after, which is great, but more importantly, the industry needs skilled professionals that can tackle the problems and threats of today that have become a matter of national and international urgency.

In fact, a CompTia report found that the class of systems and cybersecurity analysts was one of the leading tech job categories. And the recent presidential election spurred interest in cybersecurity careers.

The U.S. Department of Labor lists the median annual wage of information security analysts as $92,600. According to Steven Ostrowski, director of corporate communications at CompTia, “Technology is deeply embedded in virtually every business and industry – healthcare, education, government, finance, entertainment, sports and dozens of other industries are hungry for workers who think strategically, communicate effectively, and are creative in identifying how to use technology to make a business more secure.”

Thanks to efforts such as BYU’s, women in cybersecurity may soon no longer be the outliers they are today.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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