Why Aren't Women Entering the Cybersecurity and Risk Management Arena En Masse?
The economy and the country at large are missing out on a great well of talent.
Last month, for the second time in four years, I attended the Executive Women’s Forum (EWF) in Scottsdale, Arizona. I must admit, I typically do not frequent all-female groups or events. I always have believed that to succeed, women must be mainstreamed into all professions, companies and organizations. After all, I had entered the U.S. Navy and naval intelligence in 1979, at a time when only a handful of women were in this field. Many of the legal and policy tenets already were already in place to ensure I was given the same opportunity as my male officer counterparts. Of course, there were workplace behavioral challenges—but the framework was in place regarding equal pay, promotion and leadership opportunity for all under the law. So while there were “women in the military” organizations, I never joined them or participated in them. I was going to make it by teaming with my counterparts, fully engaging with my team and excelling under the leadership of my bosses and peers. And, for the most part, this worked for me both professionally and personally.
So why did I come to EWF, and why am I recommending it to others? The EWF is the largest member organization serving emerging leaders as well as the most prominent and influential female executives in the information security, risk management and privacy industries.
Its core mission is to attract, retain and advance women in the information security, information technology risk management and privacy industries through education, leadership development and the creation of trusted relationships. The community is composed of a global network of intelligent, powerful and influential women who have "been there and done that" and are willing to share their challenges and successes to empower other members to achieve excellence in their careers and their organizations.
These are some of the fastest-growing careers globally, and they demand a diversity of backgrounds, intellect, perspective and skill sets for us to succeed—as an economy and a nation. To date, the technically deep have dominated, but the fact is that we need a breadth and depth of skill sets and experience to analyze, understand and solve risk management challenges in the digital age. And the percentage of women in these fields has dropped over the past two years from a high of 12 percent to today’s level of 10 percent.
In a majority of work environments, few to no women can mentor, guide and enable the next generation of information security and risk management professionals. Where are the successful role models and leaders for others to follow?
The EWF brings together those successful and aspirational professionals, shares their workplace challenges and best practices and links them to mentors they may not have in their own agency or company. I have been awed by the amazing openness, teamwork and encouragement from industry and government information technology security/risk management professionals in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Maybe this exists because on occasion we come together, learn about and enable each other—something I have not done with female professional counterparts who I do not already know.
While I am not running out to join predominantly female organizations, a light has come on in my head: When we have chosen a male-dominated career field, sometimes we need to connect with one or two successful and driven career protégés outside our immediate sphere to get ourselves to the next level of achievement or understanding.
Terry Roberts, a former director of Naval intelligence, is the founder and president of WhiteHawk.