Headlines are often teeming with cautionary tales, updates and various tips and advice for managing cybersecurity in a way that aligns with business success and protection. In the press, for example, stories capture the anxiety associated with costly breaches, including high-profile attacks like the T-Mobile breach in August of this year. But they more often exclude the underlying and problematic lack of equality and diversity in the industry. 

The professional ranks in IT and cybersecurity have been puzzled by a persistent shortage of diverse talent and opportunities for people with underrepresented identities. As cybersecurity grows in significance both economically and out of necessity to combat escalating risk varieties, the diversity dilemma goes beyond a common obstacle when the industry claims that it is struggling to occupy its ranks with fresh talent. 

A problem realized with data  

Captured in recent statistics about IT professionals, diversity is more than a perceived issue, but partly explains how there is a growing shortage of diversified talent. 

According to the (ISC)² Cybersecurity Career Pursuers study, women are entering the industry at higher rates. Despite this climb, only 33% of cybersecurity professionals surveyed were women. In context, a Varonis study discovered how only 13% of Fortune 500 companies employ a woman in a cybersecurity leadership or management position.

A gender imbalance in technical roles is a problem because talent availability and workplace cultures struggle without diversity – of ideas, cultures and people. 

What are the barriers? 

Perceptions are often the most difficult barriers to overcome. Enrollment in cybersecurity programs may be diversifying, but the outcomes are still struggling to fulfill the potential of a truly diverse industry. Prospective talent, especially younger professionals, have a less than favorable view of cybersecurity: it’s little more than password protections and regular patching. A report on this reputation, which challenges hiring practices, suggests that costly misconceptions may be responsible for gaps in the workforce. When addressed, the industry can recruit more productively and diversify its pipeline. 

The diversity disparity in cybersecurity has been likened to STEM with its failings to attract a positive balance of genders and cultures. A more diversified talent pool is not easy to accomplish. Tackling misconceptions may be the first step, but spreading opportunity needs to cover considerable ground.  

Diversifying and improving the talent 

Diversifying the workplace should be underpinned by an equality of opportunity and openness to learn, develop and push beyond the limits of bias. Excellence is an unbiased ambition — one that can be promoted with respect, recognition, and transparency.

IT companies can be more proactive in challenging bias by using their workplace culture as a testbed for new talent and ideas. It starts by identifying the extent of the problem. The importance of diversity and equality for business success cannot be understated, and goals for greater diversity in new talent hires is one way to re-energize a workforce with new and exciting cultures and ideas. Recruitment is a platform for onboarding fresh ideas and new people — this is an opportunity to encourage more women and other underrepresented professionals within the industry.  

Diversity isn’t simply an objective — it’s a responsibility of a business that has the desire to promote new standards for its industry. 

Importantly, this kind of meaningful change should come from inside a business first. Having greater diversity within IT and security roles will result in stronger and more effective teams. Organizations must commit to positive change, encouraging women both internally to consider a role in cybersecurity, as well as look to recruit more diverse new hires. Breaking down conscious and unconscious bias is critical in helping organizations create a fair and equal workplace.

When businesses want to diversify their recruitment pipeline, the role of unconscious bias is often an invisible, albeit challenging obstacle to overcome. A drive to attract and recruit diverse talent can be achieved when businesses make positive strides toward or decisions about their talent, such as leveraging data insights to understand which applicant has the most suitable skills. Neutralize language across applications and invite an interviewee to be assessed by a panel or blind skills test. This will help your recruitment process expand its understanding of different employees. A balance of different solutions will help eliminate the invisible barriers of bias that could be deterring new talent. 

People create change

Diverse talent is a growing priority because its benefits can lead to greater innovation and an opportunity for a business to succeed. Diversity is impactful on business success, and this includes problem solving and teamwork. Diverse talent can facilitate a variety of perceptions, ideas and attitudes — when this works in a collaborative team environment, innovation can truly flourish. 

In the bigger picture, the diverse workforce is one that prospers from its differences — new perceptions will unlock fresh understandings and help resolve problems and other obstacles that limit a business’ success. 

In the context of cybersecurity and IT, a greater diversity of talent can create the change that the industry needs. As with other industries, people unlock potential.