Skip to Main Content

Seize the Moment: Now is the Time for Women in Cybersecurity

Condensed from WiCyS 2020 Conference Keynote Presentation “Seize the Moment”

By Diane M Janosek, Esq., CISSP
President, Women in Cybersecurity Mid-Atlantic Affiliate

A recent report released by the cybersecurity company Mimecast revealed that cybercrime has increased significantly in the midst of the global pandemic. The 48-page report “100 Days of Coronavirus (COVID-19),” released in May 2020, reported an overall increase in cyber-attacks by 33%. Breaking it down even further, the cybersecurity company said it saw the monthly volume of all detection categories increase by at least 26%, with:

  • spam/opportunistic detections increased by 26.3%;
  • impersonation detections increased by 30.3%;
  • malware detections increased by 35.16%; and
  • blocking of URL clicks increased by 55.8%.

Cybercriminals continue to seize the moment–taking advantage of a dire situation and wreaking havoc on people and organizations in a time of uncertainty, fear, and economic pressure. Therefore it’s more important than ever for us, as women in cybersecurity, to seize our moment! We can change the trajectory to not just moving the needle (increasing the number of women in cybersecurity from 20-25% in the field globally), but to owning the needle and dominating the cyber industry. We have the power to solidify our future by creating business partners and networks with women-owned businesses, so that women not only work in the field, but are leaders in the field with strong, innovative, diverse teams, reflective of women’s core strengths of collaboration, innovation, and intelligence.

This year will most certainly go down in history for the global pandemic of COVID-19, but 2020 also marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the United States’ 19th Constitutional amendment, granting women the right to vote. It took decades of hard work before that to get women’s right to vote signed into law. Women had to organize, advocate, picket – some were even jailed. This history tells us that it takes tenacity and time for real change – a really long time.

While women make up about 20-25% of the global cybersecurity workforce, the overall American workforce is made up of roughly a 50-50 split between men and women. However, there is a very clear deficit in the cybersecurity industry. As for leadership positions, there is an even greater disparity. Only 25 out of 500 CEOs of this 2020’s Fortune 500 companies are women – yes that is only 5%.

Consistently in technology, women are not the front leaders, even if they arrived on the scene early. We cannot let this happen in cybersecurity. We need to use our resources to empower each other. Women have been in the workforce for 50+ years; we can no longer say that more time is needed. We need a change in mindset. Do not expect that change to come from others – we, women, must modify our expectations and behaviors so we can be the change needed in the world for female representation.

Today, women have the right to vote. We are no longer expected to stay home when we get married or have children. We have choices and options, but more can still be done as practices, policies, and/or biases – either known or unknown – continue to have an impact on women today. 

Here are my Top 5 Tips for Women in Cyber. By heeding to these tips, we can increase women’s representation in key cybersecurity positions.

  • #5 ADVOCATE. We should be suggesting and recommending each other for positions. We must be advocates for each other as jobs open up.
  • #4 MENTOR. We must mentor the next level behind us so they can catch up. Let’s suggest educational paths and opportunities for mentees that will enhance their opportunities. There is tremendous power in mentoring and giving back.
  • #3 NETWORK. Build a strong network. Build your personal brand – know your strengths (communication, connector, problem solver, code writer, etc).
  • #2 PROMOTE. Promote and nominate colleagues to receive rewards and recognition. Do so consistently and frequently.
  • #1 SPEAK UP.  Never stop self-advocating. Speak up for yourself. You are your own best advocate. Believe in yourself. Tell your supervisors about your goals and your desires. They will not know if you do not tell them and you do not take risks.

By advocating for and mentoring each other, building our networks, promoting each other, and speaking up for ourselves, we can go nowhere but up. These tips will help to move the needle in the right direction. But a question remains – will it be enough?

We are now in a perfect storm. While we want women to progress in all fields, no other field is growing exponentially like cybersecurity. Therefore, cyber is as close as we are going to get to a blank slate. So, let us write our own book. Let us re-imagine and recreate our future, our trajectory. We must own our own future individually and collectively; be our own advocates and believe in and invest in our fellow cyber-sisters. If we change our mindset, we can achieve it.

Together we can not only increase female representation in the cybersecurity field, but also known as moving the needle; we can and must own the needle. This is our moment! We have the ability now! Let’s seize it!

For more information on women in cybersecurity, explore the Women In Cybersecurity (WiCyS) Critical Infrastructure Community (CIC), sponsored by Capitol Technology University, which is focused on empowering a community of women in critical infrastructure cybersecurity careers in academia, government, and industry.