Across all industries, diversity is more than just a corporate buzzword: it’s a competitive advantage. Research from McKinsey & Company found that diverse organizations outperform their industry counterparts. Moreover, top candidates prioritize diversity when evaluating career opportunities.
In cybersecurity, as we work to solve the ever-evolving mission critical challenges and threats to national security, our workforce must be more agile and dynamic than our global adversaries. A rich pool of experience and backgrounds encourages diversity of thought and new perspectives that lead to the best solutions in better defending our networks.
However, the cybersecurity industry continues to lag behind in gender diversity. Only 20% of the US cybersecurity workforce is made up of women. When you dive into specific levels of cybersecurity work, females are an even greater minority.
As the industry works to fill the 3.5 million estimated job openings due by 2021, it’s worth expanding on four critical benefits of more diverse cyber teams and adding more women to the workforce.
A Rise in Innovation
Despite their statistical underrepresentation, women have always been pioneers in technology. Hedy Lamarr’s work a century ago laid the early groundwork for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology. It was Radia Perlman’s early vision and dedication that would eventually become massive but secure Ethernet networks. These engineering feats originated from a new perspective in what has always been a male-dominated field.
Organizations should encourage and foster these perspectives. In SOC’s Pocydon Group, part of SOC’s Cyber Operations, we’ve made Grace Hopper and her contributions to computer science part of our culture. Ms. Hopper took difficult-to-read binary code and made it more accessible, helping to shape what computer science has become today. Her team is also credited with finding the first software bug. These accomplishments serve as a powerful example of how different perspectives can drive better results, particularly with technology and innovation. We liked the metaphor so much, we put the bug on our company T-shirt.
As we seek to increase diversity among our cyber teams at SOC, we understand that more diverse companies earn a greater share of their profits from new ideas and products. In fact, according to Boston Consulting Group, this is the case with new innovations launched by companies leading with greater diversity in the past three years.
A Rise in Emotional Intelligence
Most of us have seen the effectiveness of diversity first hand. When men and women work together, it creates a better dynamic. There’s deeper camaraderie and appreciation for diversity of thought.
This experience is more than anecdotal. A survey in the UK found that women bring empathy and intuition to ideas within a company, with almost two-thirds of respondents saying that women contribute in a distinctively different way to their male colleagues. Studies in the US also found that women have a high emotional IQ – the authors of the study say this trait can present itself in a multitude of ways, from remaining calm during times of turbulence or inspiring to building team consensus.
Organizations that can harness this emotional intelligence and build it into team dynamics will be positioned to create a stronger culture and foster better combinations of skillsets.
A Rise in Collaboration
A 2018 study conducted by McKinsey & Company found that women are typically more interested in acting as role models than men- a factor that builds the much-needed camaraderie essential to succeed in a challenging and fast-moving industry.
Our organization has recognized that the cybersecurity industry tends to typically attract introverted cyber experts. Yet collaboration and sharing ideas is critical to advancing solutions and capitalizing on diversity that creates better results. In many instances, we’ve seen female leaders successfully inspire a team of engineers to open up and contribute more to group discussions. This boost in communication creates trust, which is critical to any team’s success.
A Rise in STEM Support
Once upon a time, the excuse for the low rates of women in technology fields was a lack of “female interest in STEM careers” and even farther back in time, a lack of “well-educated women.”
A lack of female interest is simply not accurate. A recent 2017 study showed that more than half of STEM graduate students, enrolled in science and engineering degrees, were women. Part of the challenge in defining these statistics is because the definition of STEM education and careers is often too narrow. Yet, STEM has commonly been presented as a masculine subject, with a Microsoft study finding that young girls still don’t see female role models widely presented in STEM.
In the cybersecurity market, women can bring forward just as much capability. From a hiring perspective, we need more female candidates in the market and this can be realized by introducing an open-minded approach for all genders to appreciate the satisfaction that solving science and technology challenges produces at an early age.
Organizations Must Take a Formalized Approach
The benefits of creating a more diverse, dynamic workplace where women are valued has tangible benefits. But biases and institutional roadblocks persist. To successfully harness the power of diversity and create a space for diverse leadership, organizations must take a proactive and thoughtful approach.
Seek out opportunities to partner recruiting efforts with cybersecurity groups and colleges to get access to the best and brightest talent. Focus on the emerging industry challenges that will require innovation and collaboration. Find ways to connect with women interested in the field and create a path for them to grow and succeed at your organization.
When my daughters enter the working world, they will do so with limitless opportunities and potential. Organizations across all industries are formalizing their approach to bringing women on board and realizing the increased benefits to their teams.
It’s our job as an industry to make sure we’re opening our doors to the women and diverse talent that will lead future generations of cybersecurity innovations.
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