Women currently make up close to 25% of the cybersecurity workforce, according to Women in CyberSecurity (WiCyS) and Cybersecurity Ventures’ estimation. The number has nearly doubled since 2013, but it’s “still way too low,” which pushed Fortinet and WiCyS to work together to help the cyber community to “do better.”

“With women making up 51% of the population, that’s really a tremendously underutilized resource,” Fortinet Deputy CISO Renee Tarun said. “But then we also see disparity in the workforce. … At the end of the day, we’re not unicorns. We in cybersecurity do exist.”

Female cybersecurity professionals also face advancement barriers. “Men are four times more likely to hold executive roles than their female counterparts, they’re nine times more likely to have managerial roles than women, and sometimes they’re paid 6% more than women,” she added.

However, Tarun argued women should be tapped to fill leadership roles, since female leaders are seen as more proficient in softer skills than their male counterparts. Leadership is “about business enablement and the technology,” she said. Women leaders “not only bring experience and technical to the table, but [also] those essential soft skills” including analytical, communication, and interpersonal skills.

“​​I’m a firm believer in the more diversity you have in your teams, the more effective your teams are going to be,” Tarun said.

WiCyS’ Executive Director Lynn Dohm concurred. “In order to build up an effective cybersecurity workforce, you need to have that diversity,” she said.

Although the female workforce doubled in the past few years, the talent demand in cybersecurity has tripled and cyberattacks are happening at a more rapid rate, Dohm added. “Globally, we have the workforce shortage gap at 3 million, and in the United States alone, we have 260,000 unfilled jobs,” she said. “So, cybersecurity has a burning issue.”

Because of that, WiCyS is building career training programs to get female talents into the workforce quicker “so that they could be a part of the solution of the cybersecurity workforce problem that we have right now.”

“​​Our goal is to recruit, retain and advance women in cybersecurity,” she said. “​​We need cybersecurity teams to have different genders, identities, races, ethnicities, cultures, experiences, and so much more to bring to the table.”

Everyone Has a Role to Play

Established in 2012, WiCyS became a nonprofit organization in 2018, and now it has more than 5,000 members from more than 70 countries. To help bridge the talent gap, the organization designed training, mentor-mentee, apprenticeship, and internship programs for students, non-traditional career changers, and women in different career stages.

As a strategic partner, Fortinet helps fund all WiCyS initiatives and built a support structure that includes offering network security expert exam vouchers for its members.

“If they’re the only female for four years of their courses, and they don’t feel that power of connection in the community, and they don’t have those role models and don’t see their place in the workforce,” women won’t enter the field, Dohm said. The power of the larger community is vital to to help women “elevate and rise.”

To highlight more role models, Fortinet recently released a book called “Fight Fire With Fire: Proactive Cybersecurity Strategies For Today’s Leaders.” Tarun authored it and 14 other female cybersecurity leaders are the contributors.

The book includes every contributors’ bio. “It’s really important for folks to be able to see that we all come from different walks of life, different backgrounds, and how everybody started in their career or in the IT field,” Tarun said. “We contributive value into the IT and security fields whether that’s in CISO roles, IT leadership roles, being industry analysts or venture capitalists, that we all come from different backgrounds, and there’s different careers in the cyber field that women conduct.”

Additionally, Fortinet pledged to train 1 million people globally over the next five years through its cybersecurity training, certification, career-growth, and employment-assistance programs. The security vendor also extended its free training program during the pandemic. By March of 2021, Fortinet delivered more 950,000 self-paced classes, Tarun said.

“From my perspective, we all have a role to play, every organization needs to be stepping up and doing their part to help not only train but attract and retain,” Tarun said. “So that means creating inclusive environments where employees can continue to grow and doing things like setting up mentoring programs, hiring, internship programs, having relationships with colleges and universities and even going down farther than that” to engage the younger generation earlier.

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