New survey reveals why few women consider cyber security as a career option

Only 11% of all cyber security workers are women. While the rest of the world wonders why, an eye-opening survey by Kaspersky Lab has revealed some real reasons behind the lack of interest and participation amongst women.

Lack of understanding about cyber security as well as a lack of female role models and influencers in the field are impacting women's' participation in cyber security.

Earlier this year, a report by the Center for Cyber Safety Education revealed that only 11% of all cyber security workers were women, and the figure went down further to only 8% in the UK.

“It’s disappointing to see that the number of women in the cyber security workforce continues to remain low,” said David Shearer, CEO at the Center for Cyber Safety and Education and (ISC)². He added that an increased number of women in the industry could help to close the gap in the cyber security workforce, which is expected to reach 1.8 million by 2022.

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“We must encourage young women, help them to see that information security is a challenging, lucrative and exciting career field. We must also promote women into leadership positions, and pay them at levels that are equal to their male counterparts," Shearer said.

A fresh report on the statistic by Kaspersky Lab seeks to gain insight into why women are not getting into cyber security, and what can be done about this situation.

'We believe it all comes down to a certain chain of events and influences that must occur as soon as girls start thinking about their future careers. From advice and information given in school, to the guidance of friends and family members and interactions with businesses and the media – somewhere along the line, a link is being missed,' the firm noted.

To find answers to these questions, Kaspersky Lab conducted a survey of over 4,000 young people from the UK, USA, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Israel and the Netherlands by using an equal number of men and women between 16–21 years of age as respondents.

The survey revealed that as many as 52% of women did not have any interest in computing as a career and 45% of them didn't know enough about cyber security careers. At the same time, only 36% and 7% of women were inclined to choose mathematics and IT respectively as their preferred subjects at school. Compared to 20% of men, only 16% of women had a clear idea of what cyber security experts did.

The survey also revealed that 57% of women did not have any experience of computer coding. On the other hand, 49% and 21% of men were inclined to choose mathematics and IT respectively as their preferred subjects at school, thereby explaining their dominance in the cyber security field.

With the average age at which women decided on their future career being just 15 years and 10 months, the lack of understanding about cyber security and the lack of coding experience played a part in them not choosing cyber security as their future career options.

'This suggests a need for young girls to have access to advice and information about the industry at a younger age, so that they don’t rule it out in favour of more traditional professions such as lawyers, medics or teachers that have long-established career paths,' Kaspersky Lab said.

Janice Richardson, Senior Advisor at European Schoolnet, believes that schools have a big role to play as far as helping young girls choose their future careers is concerned, as well as to grasp the exciting challenges that cyber security careers offer. 'Hackathons and coding taught at school, can have limited appeal, but setting digital challenges to help children learn more about security whilst practicing their problem-solving skills could be more successful in promoting the career,' she says.

Richardson adds that another reason behind few girls choosing cyber security as their future career is the lack of understanding of three out of four parents about the field. She says that there is also a need to break down pre-conceived ideas of males, the media and the general public on stereotypes and “suitable” professions for girls.

According to Jacky Fox, Director for Cyber Lead at Deloitte, there exists a 'brogrammers' culture and military style language that can be off-putting for a lot of women as well. Recruitment campaigns should thus be more gender neutral to attract more women to the field.

While these reasons seem to be enough to explain the lack of female participation in cyber security, Kaspersky Lab says that the biggest reason for it is the lack of female role-models or influencers around them. While 31% of the respondents said that they have met people from the cyber security industry, only 11% of them know women working in cyber security. However, for those who have interacted with women in the field, their opinion about cyber security has turned positive.

'This clearly shows the power of role models in promoting the industry as a whole and how inspirational female personalities can be utilized to make cybersecurity a more attractive proposition for women and help to reduce today’s skills shortage,' the firm said.