Women in Cyber Security – Career and Education Guide

Cyber security is one of the most important industries in the world today as the digital infrastructure and globalization of electronic usage by nearly every individual across the planet increases on a daily basis. Billions of people use the Internet and current technologies to accomplish tasks each and every day including their work, communicating, shopping, paying taxes, ordering groceries, playing games, buying cars, and much more.

This field is becoming increasingly critical as more uses develop and integrate into digital society without proper protections in place such as those within healthcare, automobiles, power plants, rail, and aviation. Many technologies are introduced and integrated into everyday life without the proper security protections in place. This leaves the cyber security profession filled with opportunities and potential. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that this industry will grow up to 31% by 2029. This is a massive growth rate compared to the overall US job growth outlook in all industries by 2029, which is 4.4%.

And, keep in mind that nearly every business type and organization requires cyber security protection. Cyber security degree holders can work from anywhere for any type and size of company: non-profit, government entity, and more. However, individuals with degrees, certifications, and experience are often the most desirable candidates who can earn the most money and secure the best jobs.

Gender Gap

A gender gap in cyber security absolutely still exists. Much like any STEM career, men dominate the personnel makeup of the industry. As of 2017, women in the US only compose 14% of the cyber security workforce and these figures are significantly lower in other global regions. An even more staggering figure is that women only hold 1% of senior management positions in data and information security leadership.

The reasons for these significant gender gaps vary but it’s important to note that these gaps have absolutely nothing to do with the capabilities of men over women. One of the primary reasons for this, as with most gender gaps of this sort, is simply that societal views of technology-based fields were once determined to be jobs for men. From a young age, boys tended to be pushed toward STEM careers rather than girls. Yet another reason is that organizations do not recruit women because of existing gender biases. Many organizations will pass over female sounding names and write job descriptions in male-dominated language rather than gender-neutral language.

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How We Think of Cyber Security vs. Reality

The image most people have regarding cyber security does not often fall in line with the realities of the industry. When thinking of cyber security, many people may conjure up images of socially awkward young men hiding away in dark rooms living off sugary beverages and junk food while staring at screens for hours on end without ever experiencing daylight. While this might make for dramatic and engaging cinematic imagery, the realities of a career in cyber security are quite different.

To begin with, most cyber security jobs require working with individuals in other departments and on specific projects. Successful cyber security professionals must have strong interpersonal and communication skills today. Most professionals in this field work in offices just like other businesspeople and government employees. In fact, many positions keep traditional working hours just like everyone else. It’s important to understand that not all cyber security careers are about sitting behind a computer and programming or thwarting cyber-attacks.

Career possibilities for cyber security professionals exist in almost any aspect of IT and in business. One can pursue management careers just as easily as technical careers in the field. It’s also possible to lead projects, conduct training, work in sales and marketing, procure products and services, develop business and partnerships, and many other areas of emphasis. The industry of cyber security requires individuals with a variety of backgrounds and skill set for networks, technologies, and businesses to run well.

What Industries Need Cybersecurity Employees?

Essentially, all industries require cyber security. According to a recent industry report, roughly 80,000 cyber-attacks occurred on a daily basis in 2018. These attacks centered around the theft of personal information, credit card details, sensitive files, bank accounts, healthcare documents, and more. The most critical industries that require immediate attention and protection are those associated with human life, national security, and public safety.

A cyber security professional can work for nearly any type of business or organization, including the government and non-profits. You could also choose to work for cyber security software and technology companies that produce products and services to protect consumers. Some people are employed by credit card companies or hospitals to help protect the highly sensitive and personal information of everyday citizens from cyber-criminals and other bad actors. All cyber security jobs are vital to the health of the national economy.

Many people choose to work in data recovery or preventative training for corporations. And you could choose to specialize in ransomware, penetration testing, or forensics for any number of businesses, including government at the local, state, and federal levels. At the end of the day, a properly educated cyber professional can work wherever and for whomever they want.

Why Should Women Consider a Career in Cyber Security?

  • The Pay
    A LinkedIn report shows that the median salary for cyber security professionals in the US is $92,000. Individuals can expect to make between $65,000 and $130,000 throughout their careers. Pay will depend upon the employer, location, education, and other factors. To improve upon salary expectations, it will be essential to continue your education and add specialized skills throughout one’s career.
  • Job Security
    Cyber security professionals have some of the highest rates of job security as anticipated through 2029. During a time when many industries are dying and people are losing jobs by the millions each year, cyber security remains a steadfast and relatively safe career option. And, as the industry continues to face pressure to recruit, hire, and promote women in cyber security, women may find even greater job security in this field than men.
  • Financial Assistance and Support
    Women have access to far more financial assistance and educational support than men when it comes to the pursuit of cyber security degrees and certifications. The initiatives to encourage women in cyber security are exceptional. Dozens of organizations exist for women cyber security professionals and students. Many of these organizations offer scholarships, internships, and priceless insights into the industry.
  • Helping Others
    A highly appealing aspect of cyber security for many women is the ability to help people. Cyber security is about protecting the lives and livelihoods of innocent people from bad actors including criminals, foreign states, political manipulators, people with grudges, and others. These positions also allow for both independent work and collaborations with others to meet the end goal of making the digital world a safer place for the masses.

Degree Requirements to Enter into Cybersecurity

Given that cyber security has a demand for millions of additional workers over the next few years, there are plenty of alternative ways to enter the field outside of traditional methodologies. Many people still choose traditional entrance into the field, which is to complete degrees and gain work experience through internships and entry-level employment. Unlike other professions that often require a bachelor’s degree for entry-level jobs, the cyber security field is in such demand that an associate degree is often enough to secure reputable entry-level positions in the industry.

Another approach people are taking is to change career paths. These people typically already have at least a bachelor’s degree in another field. This field may or may not be related to IT or STEM. For individuals changing careers, they will require the appropriate education to do so. Many people choose certificate programs to gain qualifications, followed by volunteering their services or finding internships in order to gain work experience. It’s essential for all individuals interested in this career to pursue degrees heavily concentrated in cyber security, from computer science to business administration.

Regardless of the way one enters the field, continued education will be critical for everyone. To receive promotions if you have an associate degree, it will be essential to pursue a bachelor’s degree and possibly a master’s degree, especially for those with aspirations to earn access to executive roles. Specialized certifications are another excellent way to secure career advancement. And it’s always a good idea to pursue higher education from programs that are endorsed by the Department of Homeland Security and the NSA as National Centers of Academic Excellence in various cyber security sectors.

Skills and Training Needed

Technical Skills

Technical skills are essential to certain cyber security pathways; however, many positions only require a general understanding of the technical components of cyber security. For those who wish to pursue the technical side, technical know-how will be necessary in a variety of areas. This might be dependent upon the specialization one intends to pursue and the roles and responsibilities of a particular position.

Some technical skills associated with cyber security jobs include the ability to complete specific tasks such as penetration testing, network configuring, or firewall installing. It might be beneficial to understand the latest technology platforms and software programs, as well as threat analysis, recovery protocols, and penetration testing. All cyber security professionals must have a strong understanding of technical industry jargon to be able to communicate effectively and many will require a solid foundation in programming languages and operating systems.

Soft Skills

Today, soft skills in cyber security are equally as important as technical skills and, in some cases, they are more important. The most important soft skill of today is that of communication. All cyber security professionals will be required to communicate at all levels and through any form such as with phone calls, messaging, emails, white papers, reports, in-person meetings, video meetings, and more. It will be critical to be able to explain problems, solutions, and technical details precisely, clearly, and coherently to individuals without an exacting understanding of cyber security.

In addition to communication, a variety of soft skills will boost employability and improve your chances to receive pay increases. The ability to pay attention to detail is imperative for nearly all cyber security positions. Many times, cyber security professionals will not have a large team or a dedicated cyber security manager or director with experience in the field. As such, it’s essential to be able to have self-motivation and the ability to work independently. Leadership is another important soft skill as, once again, people who work in cyber security may be the only cyber security professional on the team or in the department. Individuals in cyber security must be able to lead others to successful project implementation and integration.

Cyber Security Education - Bootcamps, Certifications and Degrees

Bootcamps

Cyber security bootcamps are ideal for individuals in search of a fast-paced, immersive education which can be complete in a short amount of time. These bootcamps provide experiential learning opportunities in a vast array of cyber security areas of expertise for each career level. The classes are often held online, with roughly 20 instruction hours each week. Hours are often flexible to work with the lives of the participants. Bootcamps in cyber security often last between 12 weeks and 20 weeks.

The subjects will vary greatly based on the program but may cover cryptocurrency, information security, engineering, analytics, security operations architecture, offensive security, threat intelligence, blockchain, programming, vulnerability detection, threat mitigation, network systems, and many others. These bootcamps may also prepare participants for various certifications, such as CISSP or SSCP.

Certifications

Cyber security certifications are available in a variety of levels and formats. These certifications are typically used as a way to improve upon skills, secure promotions, and to specialize in specific sectors of the field. Most certifications will have a minimum educational requirement of at least some completion of higher education. Others may only require the successful completion of an introductory course.

Experience within the field can also help with application acceptance. In other cases, a bachelor’s degree will be necessary to be able to take cyber security certification courses. It’s also a good idea to pursue certifications that complement the industry in which the individual works such as manufacturing, applications, software, healthcare, etc.

You could also choose to complete professional organization certifications. These programs might require the participant to be a member of certain cyber security organizations to be considered for admittance. Much like bootcamps, certificates are shorter and less expensive programs than degrees, which boost skill sets and career opportunities.

Degrees

Degrees in cyber security are extensive and available at all levels. The type of degree one selects should be done in coordination with career aspirations. It’s important to note that many people choose to start with an associate degree and continue their education while gaining invaluable work experience.

An associate degree in cyber security will lead to entry-level positions at many companies and organizations. The demand for cyber security professionals is so great at the moment that most companies do not have the luxury of requiring higher degrees for these positions. To receive career advancement and promotions, it may be necessary to continue with schooling and complete a bachelor’s degree or various certifications.

Individuals with a cyber security bachelor’s degree or concentration are likely to be considered for jobs over those with an associate degree. Without any previous experience, these degree holders will also qualify for entry-level positions. It will be easier to achieve career advancement of all kinds with a bachelor’s degree.

Advanced degrees at the master’s and PhD levels are typically not a requirement for even executive positions, though this could change as more people enter the field over the next 10 years. However, a master’s degree is often a good idea for any person hoping to become a cyber security information security officer (CISO), an executive-level position available at some larger companies. A PhD will be necessary for anyone interested in cyber security research or those who wish to become professors and teach cyber security.

The type of degree most desired by organizations hiring cyber security graduates varies by the employer and the position. You could choose to pursue cyber security, computer engineering, programming, computer science, computer networking and security, information assurance, computer support services, business administration with a cyber security concentration, and many other options.

Options for a Cyber Security Career

Career possibilities in cyber security are available within various sectors and categories that can be broken down into seven areas, including:

  • Analyze (AN)
  • Collect and Operate (CO)
  • Investigate (IN)
  • Operate and Maintain (OM)
  • Oversee and Govern (OV)
  • Protect and Defend (PR)
  • Securely Provision (SP)

Essentially, these groupings are based on roles in leadership, management, service, and technical sectors. Some common technical approaches are to maintain systems, create safer systems, preventing threats and attacks, and system testing. To begin, women should consider their unique cyber security career goals, as well as examine their personal strengths and weaknesses. Each person will be different, and certain sectors will be better suited to you than others. At the end of the day, the right sector exists for anyone who wishes to establish a successful career in cyber security.

Every organization has a need for each type of cyber security. Some companies will combine several categories in one position due to financial limitations. As such, it’s always a good idea to take interdisciplinary courses to have a solid understanding of all areas, as well as to have a specialization.

Positions

  • Information Security Analyst
    An information security analyst is the most common entry-level position. This role puts a cyber security professional in charge of planning, implementing, monitoring, and upgrading existing security practices for both information and networks.
  • IT Technician
    IT technicians fill another critical entry-level position for the cyber security field. As part of this job, individuals will diagnose issues, maintain systems, and install hardware and software. They might also train others, support clients, and test programs and equipment.
  • Junior Penetration Tester
    A junior penetration tester, also referred to as a pen tester, is hired to attempt to overcome existing security protocols. These individuals work to identify and exploit potential weaknesses in a controlled and non-threatening manner as preventative cyber security protection.
  • Network and Computer Systems Administrators
    Being a network and computer systems administrator is often seen as an entry-level position for cyber security careers. Individuals in these positions work to maintain functional networks, which includes cyber security practices such as monitoring access and verifying secure backups.

Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows the field of cyber security as the seventh fastest-growing industry in the US. Employment within cyber security is expected to grow roughly 31% from 2019 to 2029. The demand for professionally trained and educated cyber security professionals is growing in every business type and organizations of every size throughout the US. By 2021, it’s predicted that the world will be facing a severe shortage in cyber security professionals, with a deficit of up to 3.5 million. And from 2013 to 2021, there will have been 350% in job growth in cyber security.

Some of the industries with the greatest need by numbers are banking, financial institutions, healthcare, and corporations. Currently, the largest employers of various cyber security positions include computer system design companies and related services, as well as finance and insurance. The need for these individuals is also growing drastically in cloud-based organizations, application security and small and medium-sized businesses.

Organizations for Women in Cyber Security

  • WiCyS
    WiCyS is Women in CyberSecurity. This non-profit organization unites women from all over the world in research, industry, and academia. Members mentor and network, as well as share experience and knowhow.
  • CybHER
    CybHER provides a wealth of resources for both girls and professional women alike. The aim is to educate, motivate, and empower women of all ages in cyber security. This cyber security organization for women is supported by the NSA.
  • The Executive Women’s Forum
    The Executive Women’s Forum (EWF) centers around privacy, risk management, and information security. It has received participation from over 10,000 women in just over 10 years. Members can pursue leadership development, mentorship, and education.
  • Inteligenca
    Inteligenca is designed to help women change and restart their careers to cyber security, as well as to encourage young girls to learn more about cyber security. This organization has a program called 100 Women in 100 Days to boost career change for women.
  • SANS CyberTalent Immersion Academy for Women
    The SANS CyberTalent Immersion Academy for Women has the goal of increasing the overall number of women in the cyber security industry. It also offers training programs and certifications to ensure faster pathways to top positions in the field.
  • Uniting Women in Cyber
    Uniting Women in Cyber (UWIC) is a program addressing and identifying today’s industry issues while fostering career growth in leadership roles. This organization also partners with industry leaders from non-profits, investors, academia, government, and corporations.
  • Women in Security and Privacy
    Women in Security and Privacy (WISP) aims to provide education, mentoring and networking, career advancement, and leadership development to all members and beyond. This organization also has countless resources and updates regarding conferences and cyber security events.

Initiatives to Get Women into Cyber Security

  • Code Like A Girl
    Code Like A Girl is a publication and a dedicated community of women in technology. Individuals can seek out advice, share stories, teach kids to code, and more. The aim is to change the perceptions of women in tech and to provide a welcoming and encouraging environment for all.
  • Women Tech Network
    Women Tech Network works to improve gender diversity in the tech industry. It connects tech professionals with startups and top companies. Participants will be able to network with hiring managers and like-minded women.
  • Girls Go CyberStart
    Girls Go CyberStart offers a number of interactive cyber security challenges for young individuals identifying as female in high school. People must be at least 13 years of age to participate in programs. It is currently available in only 27 states.
  • Mastercard’s Girls4Tech
    Girls4Tech is a STEM initiative to encourage the development of technology and technology-related skills in young girls between the ages of 8 and 12. Additional programs are available for young women between the ages of 13 and 16.
  • National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies
    The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers & Studies (NICCS) offers nearly endless resources and information regarding cyber security education and careers. A training catalog of over 5,000 courses is available.
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