Recently, I heard a speaker exploring the benefits society accrues when women participate in higher numbers as leaders in business, politics, communities, and beyond. The speaker used an analogy of a bird trying to fly with one wing: we can only achieve our potential when both wings work together.
Information security is an industry flying on one wing. Today, only 11 percent of infosec positions are held by women. By itself, this statistic might not seem telling … the information security field is staffed by highly skilled experts, whatever the gender. But when you consider the themes that are often cited as central challenges facing the industry today, it’s conceivable that gender imbalance contributes to the pattern.
Speaking at the International Conference on Cyber Security in 2013, FBI Director Robert Miller said, “The challenge we now face is to build more effective partnerships. … We must shift to a model of true collaboration—a model of working side-by-side as a matter of course. … Then, we must develop means for sharing information and intelligence more quickly and effectively between these two spheres.”
I’ve heard sentiments like these mirrored in talks, articles, and analyst reports over the past few years. Calls to industry leaders for more collaboration, information sharing, training and communication, contextual analysis, alignment, integration—essentially encouraging development of skills that will help the industry shift from reaction to preparation, from independent action to community collaboration against cyber threats.
It’s no coincidence this set of needed skills closely aligns with specific strengths in leadership style that women bring to bear. In a 2012 leadership study by Zenger-Folkman, researchers found that women leaders were not only rated more adept in stereotypically “female strengths” of collaboration and relationship building, but also in areas such as taking initiative, driving results, and championing change.
Multiple studies have shown that diverse teams perform better, bringing different ways of thinking and different collaboration styles to innovate new solutions. Building a diverse information security workforce is not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing. It’s not just about bringing in more women for the sake of balancing the numbers; it’s about leveraging their unique talents, perspectives, and experiences so that we all win.
Unfortunately, the lack of women in the information security workforce shows we have work cut out for us. We need directed efforts to recruit more talented women to enter the field, grow in their careers, and take on leadership roles. To ignore this gender gap is to ignore the call for innovation, collaboration, and communication to bolster our collective security skills. We need that second wing.
What’s Your View?
Interested in the Women in Tech discussion? If you’re attending RSA 2015, check out my panel discussion Breaking the Glass Firewall: The Changing Role of Women in IT Security Monday, April 20, 11:20am-12:10pm PT.
What are your thoughts on the gender gap in security? What has been your experience? The comments are open!