Back in May, I blogged about the lack of women in technology and cybersecurity in particular. Weeks after that article was published, Cybersecurity Ventures released a report estimating that the number of unfilled cybersecurity jobs would increase from one million today to 3.5 million in 2021.
That’s a lot of people required for an industry that already has a zero percent unemployment rate. And if the report is right, we have a few short years to address the problem before the current cybercrime epidemic truly explodes.
Maybe it’s time to recognize that the number of women in tech is on a slippery downward slope and that reversing this 30-year trend could be the solution to the coming labor shortage.
Are Women Buying Into Gender Stereotypes?
Recently, a 10-page memo crafted by a Google employee made big headlines. In it, he argued that the lack of women in tech was due to psychological differences between men and women (Evidently, these differences only surfaced in the mid-1980s as, up until then, the number of women earning computer science degrees was relatively high).
Whether or not you agree with him, the document may offer some insight into the decline — not because the thesis was correct, but because it illustrates exactly how gender stereotyping can impact a society. I found it very difficult to believe that women today are buying into these stereotypes, so I went on a mission to learn what the experts think.
A Shift Happened in 1984
Women began turning away from computer sciences just as desktop computers were entering the American home around 1984. While there’s no irrefutable scientific evidence, the general consensus is that boys were drawn to PCs based on their ability to play video games. Some experts also suggest that the devices were almost exclusively marketed towards boys and before long, the seeds of a “techie” culture were sown and the computer geek was born. Computers were for geeks, and geeks were boys.
Reversing the Trend
According to a 2016 Girls Who Code-Accenture research study, the appeal of computer science plateaus in middle school for girls. That’s when a thought-provoking teacher who underscores the idea that girls can and do excel in the field is essential in building and sustaining interest.
According to Girls Who Code CEO Reshma Saujani,
“For girls, you cannot be what you cannot see. When they have positive role models teaching them computer science, talking about the pioneers of computer science…the impossible seems possible, and they then can imagine a place in that field for themselves.”
Saujani believes middle school is the time to nurture interest in computer science. She’s right: 74 percent of women who work in computer science today were first exposed to it in middle school.
After a pause in high school, interest in college rebounds and is again directly linked to good teachers and positive role models. It’s here that companies and educational institutions must come together and rethink, reposition, train and recruit women into technology. It starts with engaging course content designed to attract and inspire both genders. Maybe we just need good repositioning in the fields of technology. For example, have computer science and engineering focus on the outcomes — like designing products from clothing to cosmetics to cars, to building apps, services and companies from marketing software to shipping logistics and learning management.
Huge Opportunity at the Right Time
The fact is, the millions of security professionals required in the coming years is great news for anyone entering college. In an era when many are questioning the value of higher education and the debt incurred in obtaining a degree, computer sciences virtually guarantees high-paying jobs.
It’s critical that today’s students graduate ready to fill the vast number of open cybersecurity positions the workforce. Key influencers like parents, teachers, guidance counselors and state and local officials must learn more about this growing field and how to engage youth in pursuing technology and cybersecurity careers.
The situation is that we’re facing a serious and severe shortage of cybersecurity professionals. If we don’t address it immediately, we’ll hand the advantage to black hats and the outcome could be a far more menacing digital world.
Interested in a career in cybersecurity? Check out our openings here.