Written By: Tommy Clift
There’s no encryption hiding the gender disparity in the cybersecurity industry. While awareness is a start, alliances like Fortinet‘s with Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) have been creating career pathways for women in the industry.
“There’s a lot of stereotypes that prevent young people coming into the industry, particularly women,” Sandra Wheatley, SVP of marketing, threat intelligence, and influencer communications at Fortinet, told SDxCentral.
This year, WiCyS/Fortinet NSE4 Certification Summer Camp is currently carrying 100 WiCyS members through a 10-week program that gives them direct employment opportunities from Fortinet upon graduation.
WiCyS has over 5,800 members with representation in 70 countries, 50 professional affiliates, and over 170 student chapters. Fortinet came on board in 2020 to see what the partnership might look like, dipping their “toes in the water,” WiCyS Executive Director Lynn Dohm explained. It is now a “tier one” strategic partnership — the highest level WiCyS has – all in the name of recruiting, retaining and advancing women in cybersecurity.
“With all great retention and advancement opportunities, the foundation of it all is really inclusion,” Dohm said.
‘It’s Hard to Be What You Cannot See’
Part of the work ahead for Dohm and Wheatley is spreading field awareness for women at a younger age. “It’s hard to be what you cannot see,” Dohm said.
“The average woman in technology tends to step out of her career at the age of 35. Why is that,” Dohm beckoned. Among a long list – microaggressions, immovable organizational cultures, lack of clear career pathways, being passed up for promotions – a lot of it boils down “to not feeling like they belong.”
Cultivating that sense of belonging is a big task and “there’s no one cure,” Wheatley explained. This partnership’s strategy is about creating lifecycle retention for women in the industry.
“We could recruit all we want. There are many companies that are doing it and doing it very well,” Dohm explained. “But we need the lifecycle of that recruitment, retention, and advancement to really make an impact on the workforce shortage.”
Wheatley added mentorship plays a big role in creating an inclusive space where women can not feel alone. “I think it really impacts women being successful and staying in the industry,” she said.
WiCyS members all have access to mentors. “Developing those relationships in that network is a really critical piece,” Dohm added. And at the end of the summer program, as Fortinet looks to hire from the cohort, it becomes a way of “identifying, leveling up, and really investing the time and attention into the community.”
Points of Progress on a Long Road Ahead
Wheatley recently gave a cybersecurity overview to a group of students from Stanford University, in which “they all zoned in on the skills gap,” she said. Their questions, particularly from young women, deeply encouraged her — breaking down the stereotype that engineering or computer science degrees are needed to get into the field.
Wheatley also shared from the Fortinet 2022 Skills Gap Report that “80% of organizations attributed one or more intrusions to the skills gap problem and lack of cyber awareness” but that nine out of 10 organizations were also actively trying to recruit women as part of the solution.
Dohm added that conferences reach out all the time wanting to give WiCyS members the chance to attend. But when members go and come back: “not one female presenter or workshop or panelist — nothing anywhere,” she said.
Yet Dohm shared a major source of encouragement that she is now getting contacted weekly by male WiCyS members that are looking to offer up their seat on a panel when there are no women.
“These types of stories to me are really important to get that message out there,” Wheatley said.
While these conversations are foundational to moving the work forward, Dohm and Sandra — both deeply encouraged by the results so far — still say there’s a long way to go.
In 2014, Dohm explained there were 1 million unfilled jobs. “So, although we’ve progressed in 2022 to roughly 20 to 24% of women in cybersecurity now, the unfilled jobs are at 3 million plus.”
Wheatley wants to expand the summer program’s 100-member capacity in future years to help chip away at this larger issue. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of organizations like WiCyS to really help us improve this issue and close the skills gap,” she said.
“Conversations are being had now, momentum is being established,” Dohm added. “That’s really powerful, and good things are gonna come from that.”
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Written by Tommy Clift. (2022, August 2). Fortinet, WiCyS Advance Women In Cybersecurity Through Lifecycle Retention. SDxCentral