A lot has been said about the global shortage of cybersecurity workers. Today, around the world, there are roughly 4 million cybersecurity jobs sitting unfilled. Compounding this shortage is the wide gender gap across cybersecurity roles. Though great progress has been made in the last several years to bring more women to the cybersecurity table, women still only comprise one-quarter of the industry’s workforce. To address this shortage, it’s essential that we fill the gender gap.
Much has been written about the important role diversity plays in a productive workforce that is sensitive to the many varied needs of the industry. Women bring critical perspectives and experiences that are good for any business, including ours: Threat actors and their victims come from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives, so our workforce must be just as diverse so that we’re equipped to handle that.
This is why Women in Cybersecurity, or WiCyS, was founded six years ago — to address this gender gap by facilitating connections between cybersecurity companies and potential job candidates, as well as to support professional development and advancement for women in the industry. As a member of the WiCyS Board of Directors and information security professional with Palo Alto Networks, the organization’s founding sponsor, I was privileged to help organize and participate, along with our University Recruiting team, in one of WiCyS’ many important annual activities: the Fall Virtual Career Fair, which took place Sept. 9, 2020.
Though our in-person conference is held each spring and has proven a nice venue for networking and professional development, there was a need for an event that could connect companies with intern candidates during the fall when college students are seeking internship opportunities. In response, WiCyS established its Fall Virtual Career Fair in 2019.
The event gives companies like ours the opportunity to meet with women of all ages and backgrounds to share insights into our work and our needs. We can answer questions about our day-to-day responsibilities, give practical advice about career growth, and meet potential candidates for open positions at our company. Meanwhile, candidates can ask questions about expectations and form professional relationships.
A New Way to Network
Prior to this virtual event, recruiters will have met with interested candidates and reviewed their qualifications in previously submitted resumes or through information given to WiCyS. This allows us to more effectively refer candidates to hiring managers and achieve a more specific, in-depth level of conversation. Though other such fairs exist for women in tech, this is the only event specifically designed for cybersecurity, making it extremely valuable.
Utilizing the vFairs virtual events platform, each sponsor company is assigned a “booth,” which is basically a chatroom, that enables interested candidates to approach them, explore job and internship opportunities, and meet with recruiters and company representatives to ask questions and express their interest in positions. Conversations are chat-based, though participants have the option to request a call from a representative to talk further or direct message particular members of employers’ teams. Employers have access to candidates’ profiles and resumes, so they can be very targeted in their advice, recruitment approach, or referrals. Similar to an application like Slack, the vFairs platform allows for conversations in real-time with multiple people, providing for excellent reach.
In the end, we discovered that although some were students, the majority of participants were actually professionals who were either looking to transition into cybersecurity as a new career path or had perhaps taken a break from their careers and were looking to return to the workforce. Many of them had considerable professional experience who were driven and talented but just needed a little guidance. Several expressed strong interest in cybersecurity and were looking for advice on training or experiences that could help. In the end, we formed connections with a number of strong candidates and, we hope, increased candidates’ interest in this field.
There’s still much speculation about why the cybersecurity workforce shortage exists or how best to grow the pipeline of talented workers of all genders, cultures, and backgrounds. Many factors are at play, including the availability of workplace-relevant training programs, lack of awareness, and more. But events such as the WiCyS Fall Virtual Career Fair can help by bringing employers and future employees together in a targeted, effective way. To learn more, visit WiCyS.org.