With the barrage of assaults against the Internet in recent years, the need for cybersecurity has become extremely important. However, though the need is great, many young people remain uninterested in pursuing a career in the cyber field, and there is a significant gender gap among those who do choose cyber-related careers, according to a recent survey commissioned by Raytheon and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA).
Raytheon and NCSA released the latest results from its annual cyber study to commemorate the 12th annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month, sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and NCSA each October. Research firm Zogby Analytics conducted the survey of nearly 4,000 young adults aged 18-26 across four global regions with the goal of determining the root causes of the cyber talent gap.
The study, Securing Our Future: Closing the Cyber Talent Gap, revealed that within the past year, a record 79 percent of US businesses reported a cybersecurity based incident. Although this translates to a high demand for cybersecurity professionals, young people arenot choosing cyber careers. Moreover, the widening gender gap among young adults pursuing a career in cybersecurity may signal that young women are being excluded.
The survey revealed the gap between the number of men and women who are interested in cybersecurity careers is more than five times larger than it was a year ago. Forty percent of young American men reported they were interested in cybersecurity careers, while only 23 percent of young American women said the same — a gap of 17 percent. A year ago, 37 percent of women and 40 percent of men said they were interested in cyber careers.
“There will be serious implications for the world’s security, safety, and economic stability if we don’t figure out how to foster a cybersecurity workforce capable of protecting our information from increasingly harmful cyber threats,” said Jack Harrington, vice president of Cybersecurity and Special Missions for Raytheon’s Intelligence, Information and Services business.
Harrington recognized that the effort will not be easy. “We have our work cut out for us to encourage young adults to pursue this profession and to address the widening gender gap – particularly here in the US,” he said.
Despite growing interest in the cybersecurity field, many of the youth who participated in the survey pointed out that their education and networking opportunities were not up to par with what they felt they needed. Women especially felt disadvantaged when it came to the ability to network in this field, as men are twice as likely to have spoken with a cybersecurity professional.
In the United States, 67 percent of men and 77 percent of women shared that no high school or secondary school teacher or counselor mentioned a cybersecurity career as a viable option.
“Not only are we missing obvious opportunity to remediate a global shortfall of cybersecurity workers, but we’re also seeing the problem compounded by leaving women behind when it comes to cybersecurity education, programs and careers,” said Valecia Maclin, program director of Cybersecurity and Special Missions for Raytheon.
The findings of the study demonstrated why this will be such a challenging effort. Globally, 47 percent of men demonstrated an awareness of the responsibilities and tasks necessary to seek a cyber profession, compared to 33 percent of women. Moreover, 39 percent of men, compared to 52 percent of women, said they felt no cybersecurity programs were available to them.
“There seems to be latent interest in cyber careers, as half of young adults say believing in the mission of their employer is important and 63 percent say making money is important,” pointed out Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. “Cybersecurity jobs offer a clear path to both – we just need to do a better job of spreading the word.”
The findings indicated that though young people may not be precisely aware of cybersecurity opportunities, they are interested in the cyber field when given more information. As compared to the previous year’s results, this year’s survey revealed that 28 percent more young people are likely to choose a career, with the directive of making the Internet safer for those who use it.
Moving forward, one of the most important steps in solving the cybersecurity profession talent gap is making millennials aware of the issue and the opportunities available to them in this growing career field, since many simply do not know that the career field is an option.
One way to do this is by taking advantage of existing cybersecurity professionals through mentoring programs or simple career conversations with millennials, since the survey’s results found networking to be an effective tool to engage prospective cyber professionals.
Most importantly, when working on solutions to close the talent gap, extra steps should be taken to ensure these solutions and answers to the problem reach all millennials, regardless of gender.
Withsecurity breaches continuing to dominate headlines, now is prime time for parents and educators to discuss cybersecurity with young people. The private sector and government must collaborate to create the next generation of cyber warriors—and this new cadre of cyber professionals will only be possible if the gender gap is addressed.
“It’s critical that public and private partnerships focus on encouraging young girls to foster an interest in science, technology, engineering and math, that more women are prepared to enter this burgeoning field and help create a diverse, talented workforce,” Maclin said.