The Importance of Cybersecurity Education & Industry Diversity
By: Olu Ibrahim, Founder & CEO, Kids in Tech
October was National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and this year; it took on new significance as we continue to navigate this digital-first COVID era. As we rely on technology and the internet to support our daily lives, safeguarding our online presence is more essential than ever and requires dedicated attention.
We are grateful l for the experienced cybersecurity professionals who ensure that our data is secure and safely
(Image Credit – Data Center Knowledge)
exchanged, especially pertaining to the protection of already strained businesses.
Despite the fact that organizations across industry are rapidly adopting emerging technologies and new regulations are being passed, cyberattacks are increasing, evolving, and gaining more sophistication. Given the ever-changing threat landscape, all sectors need educated, trained professionals who possess the right combination of technical skills, business savvy and analytical capabilities to seamlessly implement cyber risk management initiatives.
The shortage of qualified personnel is visibly apparent with the number of unfilled cybersecurity roles on the rise. A new report from Cybersecurity Ventures estimates there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by 2021 (up from 1 million in 2014) with 350 percent growth in open cybersecurity positions from 2013 to 2021.
In order to close the talent gap and effectively fill the hiring pipeline for the long haul, we must provide our youth population with access to early educational initiatives that spark passion and excitement in the field. For example, empowering schools and STEM educators with the professional development tools to scale cybersecurity apprenticeships and in-classroom and/or after-school youth programs can help to prepare our kids for the opportunities that await them. Meaningful public policy measures and investments in relevant mission-driven organizations will also be instrumental in carrying out this work.
For example, students ages 8-14 are most engaged in programming that offers hands-on project-based curriculum, challenging them to deeply consider how the internet works and how it can be used safely. These next-gen leaders ultimately hold the keys to developing new and innovative solutions in the field and for our future, and they deserve opportunities to play and explore.
Diversity in the world of STEM is also an integral factor that businesses should consider in regards to successful talent recruiting and management. Cybersecurity in particular requires stellar problem-solving skills, and a holistic view of each unique challenge is key to resolving any issue. As a result, having a team made up of diverse individuals can only work to improve the outcome of that team.
However, one 2017 (ISC)2 report showed that women made up only 11 percent of the global security workforce, and 51 percent of women faced gender discrimination, earning less than male counterparts. Furthermore, historically those in the field have been mostly white. In fact, 69.1 percent of information security analysts are White (Non-Hispanic), making that the most common race or ethnicity in the occupation. Representing 12.3 percent of information security analysts, Black (Non-Hispanic) is the second most common race or ethnicity in this occupation.
One way we can flip this script is to not only introduce early learners to the field via educational programs (especially those high need communities), but also to offer tangible role models they can relate to.
Here are a few more tips on how businesses in particular can work towards more inclusivity in the field:
- Build an inclusive culture: Strive to create a company ethos where diverse voices and viewpoints are heard and respected
- Invest in Educational Programs: Invest in your talent and establish mentorship programs that invite participants of different backgrounds and locations to ‘join arms’; Partner with local organizations who are supporting the development of next-generation leaders of the modern innovation economy—your future employees!
- Encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts: Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives must be embraced by boards and staff throughout an organization and one’s internal communications around your values should be loud and clear to support these efforts.
- Reduce reliance on degrees: Hire talent with the hard skills, soft skills and certifications as well.
Ultimately, we as a global community must change what it means to be a tech professional—tech is for everyone. Cybersecurity is a tremendous and growing opportunity for next-generation talent to rise and shine, and we’re here for it.
Olu Ibrahim is the Founder & CEO of Kids in Tech, Inc., which partners with school districts and youth development organizations to provide high quality technology education for young children and youth in under-resourced cities in the afterschool setting throughout the United States.