U.S. Government Addresses Lack of Diversity in Cybersecurity

Written by: Reagan Flowers, Ph.D.

Change often takes much longer than any of us would like, especially regarding diversity and inclusion. However, this month, the White House took a big step forward in appointing an expert to increase diversity in tech. They didn’t just choose anyone, but a black female Google executive, who understands first-hand the challenges and disparities in the industry. As Deputy National Cyber Director for Technology and Ecosystem Security, Camille Stewart Gloster is tasked with increasing the nation’s cybersecurity, building a more diverse workforce, and strengthening cyber education.

Minimal Representation in the Cybersecurity Workforce

Let’s start by looking at what the cybersecurity landscape looks like in the U.S. Of the 1 million workers in the industryonly 24% are female. Just 4% are Hispanic, and only 9% are Black. That’s incredibly low when you look at the composition of the U.S. population: 51% women, 13% Black, and 19% Hispanic.

When you look at pay and advancement, the disparities are even more concerning. For example, 23% of minority cybersecurity professionals hold a director role or above, compared to 30% of their Caucasian peers. On average, a cybersecurity professional of color earns $115,000, while the overall U.S. cybersecurity workforce average is $122,000.

Barriers in Cybersecurity for Minorities and Women

With 750,000 unfilled jobs in cybersecurity, one would think that it would be easier to improve diversity. However, several barriers stand in the way.

First, hiring practices may exclude willing, qualified candidates by requiring too much experience. College graduates struggle to find positions, as many hiring managers need five years of experience for entry-level positions. In effect, this creates a domino effect. If minorities and women embrace the opportunity, tackle all the challenges to enter the cyber workforce, and can’t find work, interest, and participation will undoubtedly decline.

Second, once in the cybersecurity field, many experience discrimination, with 32% of cybersecurity professionals of color reporting that they have experienced some form of discrimination in the workplace.

Third, with a lack of representation in an industry that has its own culture, these workers often feel unwelcome and left out. To bridge the gap, 49% of minority cybersecurity professionals said mentorship programs are vital.

How Cybersecurity Looks in Education

As you know, here at C-STEM, we believe being a catalyst for change begins long before STEM worker enters the workforce or even before they enter college. As we’ve mentioned, eliminating barriers for underrepresented and underserved students at the Prek-12 level can help them continue through college and into the workforce.

Less than half of K-12 students are learning about cybersecurity in the classroom. Unsurprisingly, resources and teachers’ knowledge of the subject is more prominent in private schools and economically privileged districts. Unfortunately, like other STEM subjects, cybersecurity deserts are prominent in economically disadvantaged and rural areas.

It’s Time to Reach Out

Similar to what I shared about data science, cybersecurity is a rapidly evolving industry with insufficient qualified candidates to fill jobs. Therefore, it needs to become part of the curriculum at every school.

Teaching cybersecurity may be complex, requiring making an abstract topic relevant, engaging, and accessible. This can be achieved with hands-on projects and real-world examples relatable to students of every background. For example, not every student may not find a connection with an example of stolen financial information. Still, most students will be able to relate to an example of computer viruses caused by playing video games. (70% of families have at least one child who play video games, so if the student doesn’t, it’s likely they know someone who does.)

In the meantime, supplemental resources like the types of camps, competitions, and toolkits we provide will prove essential. A study released in July by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that early intervention programs help students achieve academic success in higher education and STEM majors.

Continued partnership with tech companies is also essential. In understanding what companies are looking for, we can help bridge the gap between education and the workforce. We can also help educate them on barriers in the cybersecurity field and how these companies can eliminate them. Creating workforce partnerships is also another way to provide mentors for students early, helping them get excited about the opportunities in cybersecurity and understand if it’s a subject of interest for them.

More than ever, STEM opportunities are the answer to making a difference for underrepresented and underserved students. Together, we can help level the playing field, and I could not be more excited to see the necessary steps being taken at the national level. That being said, there’s always more to be done, and we remain committed to continually growing our impact at C-STEM.

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11th Annual State of STEM Education Stakeholder Breakfast

Please join us at The Junior League of Houston from 7:30-9:00 AM