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Cybersecurity Conference Aims To Draw More Women Into The Growing Industry

Michel Spingler
A woman visits the French telecommunication giant Orange cyberdefense division stand during the International Cybersecurity forum in Lille, northern France, Tuesday Jan. 23, 2018.

The nonprofit Women In Cybersecurity, or WiCyS, will hold its sixth annual conference in Pittsburgh this week, starting Thursday.

A recent report from the cyber-economy research firm CyberSecurity Ventures finds that women comprise only 20 percent of the cybersecurity workforce. This statistic reflects the experience of WiCyS founder, Ambareen Siraj. When she was in grad school, Siraj said she often felt lonely, as she usually was the only woman in her lab.

“There were times that I really needed to not to feel isolated. I needed to feel that I belonged," she said.

Analysis from CyberSecurity Ventures reports that by 2021, the industry will have about 3.5 million job openings. Because the cybersecurity industry is growing, many argue it’s just common sense to recruit more women.

"If we invest in women and underrepresented minorities, we won’t just get more experts," said conference co-organizer Dena Haritos Tsamitis, the director of Carnegie Mellon University's Information Networking Institute. "Research has shown that companies with a diverse workforce perform better financially, as well as in employee productivity and performance."

Siraj founded WiCyS in 2013 with the backing of a National Science Foundation grant, aiming to bring the lopsided gender breakdown in cybersecurity into balance by creating a supportive community for women.

“A lot of these women became mentors to other women in the field,” said Siraj. “Mentorship is a big thing for encouragement and empowerment.”

Another benefit for conference atteendees: networking.

“A student in a community college in a remote area … can go up and talk to Silicon Valley security teams … that’s big confidence boost for them,” she said. “[It] also gives them an opportunity … to hear more about different options for them.”

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.