Women in Cybersecurity

CSforALL Speaks with ‘Women in CyberSecurity’ (WiCyS), a Non-Profit Focused on Bringing Women in Cybersecurity Together at a National Level

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2019 WiCyS conference of 1.3K+ attendees

Cybersecurity. A field of art networks, technology security, lighting fast internet-connected systems, and where women are drastically underrepresented. One organization not only recognizes this powerful computer science landscape, but works to empower and build a national community of women in the cybersecurity workforce. Women in CyberSecurity (WiCyS), a nonprofit takes the lead in bringing and supporting women in cybersecurity together for mentoring, learning, networking, and career development.

Recently, CSforALL spoke with WiCyS about their challenges, opportunities, and aspirations as they grow their mission, along with sharing about their virtual success Women In Cybersecurity (WiCyS) 2020 Conference.

CSforALL: By 2026, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts 3.5 million computing-related job openings in the U.S. How does that fact frame the work of Women in CyberSecurity?

Women in CyberSecurity: The WiCyS journey began in 2014 when female representation in cybersecurity was 11% with a growing demand for skilled workforce. Today the workforce skill gap continues. According to a recent CyberSeek project, last year there were around 504K job openings in cybersecurity and about 1 million employed in cybersecurity with female representation in cybersecurity at about 20%. It’s easy to see if we grow the number of women in cybersecurity we not only bring diversity but we increase the skilled workforce pipeline. The WiCyS non-profit organization was formed in 2017 with a mission to build a strong, gender-diverse cybersecurity workforce. With more than 6000 members (48% students and 52% professionals), 95+ student chapters and 19 professional affiliates, WiCyS offers various services to its community that includes an annual conference, speaker bureau, job board, webinar series, virtual career fair, programs for veterans, and online member forums.

CSforALL: Computer Science is a virtual tunnel to all technology and innovation, including Cybersecurity, AI, 3D, etc. Where do you see challenges specifically related to the Cybcersecuirty experience?

(WiCyS): Cybersecurity experiences many challenges similar to CS such as lack of awareness and knowledge; stereotypical notions; lack of visibility of role models; lack of access to mentors; inadequate advancement opportunities; inadequate professional development opportunities; and lack of inclusive environments.

CSforALL: If all students learn CS, our nation will have a wider talent pool of students prepared for critical pathways like cybersecurity. To prepare, especially the underrepresented, in these fields, what recommendations would your organization have to close the gap?

WiCyS: We have to start in the K-12 and then ensure the leaks in our pipeline are being addressed at all levels, including to ensure there are advancement opportunities all the way to the CISO. WiCyS takes a holistic view with their mission — recruit, retain, and advance. We can’t build the pipeline with recruiting — we have to work on ways to ensure those that choose the field want to stay in the field and part of that is ensuring they have skills and advancement opportunities. In the underrepresented areas, we have additional pressures to address and acknowledge including lack of role models and family influence in first generation college students.

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2019 WiCyS conference

CSforALL: WiCys held a WiCyS Virtual Summit. What was the main messages and themes that your organization spread that we can share with our larger Computer Science for ALL community?

WiCyS: WiCyS Virtual 20 was a way to embrace and connect to the community in this environment. The virtual conference created an avenue to provide not only a professional development opportunity but a networking one as well.

The overall message was Stronger Together. During these unusual times, women in cybersecurity needs to support NOW. “Live… from Everywhere” seemed fitting during the global virtual event because it became a platform where women from everywhere can connect and collaborate.

During the event, we offered 22 presentations/workshops, eight networking socials, two capture-the-flag live coaching sessions, seven keynotes, and had a networking lounge with live-chat going on for four straight days. We had 1.1K+ attendees, over 70 exhibitors in the career fair, and an 8 million reach on social media.

It was an amazing virtual experience where the community provided an outpour of support and commitment to the mission to recruit, retain and advance women in cybersecurity.

About Women in CyberSecurity (WiCyS): WiCyS is the only non-profit membership organization with national reach that is dedicated to bringing together women in cybersecurity from academia, research and industry to share knowledge, experience, networking and mentoring. WiCyS helps build a strong cybersecurity workforce with gender equality by facilitating recruitment, retention and advancement for women in the field. The initiative was created through an NSF grant (Award #1303441) by Dr. Ambareen Siraj at Tennessee Tech University six years ago, and has grown into a wonderful alliance among academia, government and industry. To learn more, visit www.wicys.org.

The national hub for the Computer Science for All movement, making high-quality computer science education an integral part of K-12 education in the US.

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