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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.

"I'm running the research team I initially joined as a researcher," she said. "It hasn't been a detriment."

In fact, given the high demand for people in the security field, the ability to have flexible schedule is helpful in attracting and retaining talent, she added.

Other reasons why women should take a second look at information security is job security and advancement opportunities.

"I knew this type of position was never going to be outsourced or sent overseas," said Sarah Isaacs, CEO of security consulting firm Conventus, when explaining the reasons she first decided to go into information security as a career. "There are two areas that companies always want to have in-house data security and networking. And those fields are still growing very strong."

When security consultant Tanya Baccam was first choosing her field, there weren't many women around and information security seemed like a boy's club. But, for Baccam, that was sometimes an advantage.

For example, many men who go into information security don't want management positions, she said. They're happy just doing the work. "So for women who want to manage, who want a leadership position, that's a great opportunity."

Baccam herself has served as the manager of infrastructure security for a healthcare organization, and a manager at Deloitte & Touche's security services practice. In addition to security consulting, she now also is a senior instructor and a courseware author at SANS.

Industry efforts
Some companies are looking beyond traditional places to find talented women professionals.

"Information security is an enterprise-wide issue, and requires more skill sets than just engineering and IT," said (ISC) 2's Peeler. "More and more, people are being brought in and trained in security with backgrounds in law, analytics, social sciences, or auditing."

One example of an information security professional with a non-traditional background is Maria Horton, founder and CEO of security consulting firm EmeSec, who originally started out as an emergency room nurse and then joined the Navy and became the CIO of what is now the Water Reed Medical Center.

"I went to work with the Army, Navy and Air Force in implementing teleradiology systems," she said. These machines, which sent X-ray scans electronically, replaced the earlier generation of film-based machines. "Everything related to those digital images required a network, and everything related to the network required security. That's how I got into it."

She said that her medical background is a plus when it comes to security.

"When I look at a security issue that goes across the enteprise, I'm thinking about immunity factors, self-healing, all the things that relate to health care," she said.

Another approach is to get to women early, before they branch off into other fields in the first place. Many tech vendors are lining up to support educational outreach programs, trying to reach girls before they make a decision not to go into computer science.


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