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Info sec industry still struggles to attract women

Maria Korolov | March 26, 2014
Even as women have made dramatic advances in medicine, law, and other fields, the proportion of women pursuing undergraduate degrees in the computer sciences has actually been dropping, from around 30 percent in 1990 to 18 percent in 2010, according to the latest data from the National Science Foundation. As a result, according to the Census Bureau, women accounted for just 27 percent of computer science professionals — down from 34 percent in 1990.

"Being a woman in security has certainly been a unique experience," said Caroline Wong, security initiatives director at Dulles, Virginia-based Cigital Inc., the world's largest software security-focused consulting firm. "I'll go to RSA and I'm a panel speaker, a technical consultant, and people meet me and say, 'You must be in sales and marketing.' I'll be in a meeting, and someone will say to me, bring me a chair or a cup of coffee, because I'm mistaken for an administrator."

How women in InfoSec help business performance
According to McKinsey, companies with a critical mass of female executives perform better than those without women in leaderships positions, because women are more likely to engage in people development, participative decision making, and other leadership behaviors that help companies succeed.

While this is true of all professions, the information security field is particularly in need of more diverse styles and backgrounds.

"Some of the skill sets that are becoming important for security professionals are the communication and analytical skills," said Julie Talbot-Hubbard, chief security officer at Symantec. "I've been trying to pull from other teams within Symantec to train on the cyber security side."

Diversity also helps build creativity. According to research from Center of Talent Innovation, employees at companies with diversity in management are 45 percent more likely to report growing market share for their companies, and 70 percent likelier to report that their companies captured a new market.

"The reason that diversity is so important to a technology company is that we're all about innovation," said Cecily Joseph, vice president of corporate responsibility at Symantec. "That's the most important thign we do. The more differnt types of people you have at the table, the more innovative and creative you are and the more competitive you are as a company."

Symantec has made a concerted push to expand the number of women in the company, especially in management positions. For example, the company recently tripled the number of women on its board of directors.

How InfoSec jobs can be great for women
What many women might not realize is that jobs in information security have the potential to offer significant advantages. High pay, promotion opportunities, and flexible work schedules are just some of the befits of today's information security career.

Joy Forsythe, manager for software security research at HP's Enterprise Security Products division, has a young daughter, and arranges her work schedule around her family needs.

"I can schedule my non-working time during my child's waking hours, and I can come back online after my child goes to bed," she said.

The flexible schedule, and the hours spent working from home, hasn't derailed her career, she added.


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