By Paula Bolton, Chief Marketing and Program Officer, Women In Technology (WIT)
What will it take to get more women into cybersecurity roles? Despite the incredible growth in open jobs and individuals employed in cybersecurity, women continue to be left behind and are under-represented at every level and every category of cybersecurity related work. International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC2) data shows that (globally) women are only 24% of the highly compensated field. Some of the contributing factors preventing women from entering cybersecurity: they may find their careers stalled by the time taken to have children and raise their family; or they may lack a required formal degree; or they may simply have never been introduced to these careers as appropriate for them. What is needed is a program designed to help women from all walks of life to qualify to enter the field, no matter their previous work experience or technical skill level.
A concerted effort to address these issues led non-profit Women in Technology (WIT) to partner with Georgia’s Emory University and create a program called “Career ConneXion”. Their stated mission is to “train, promote and advance all women everywhere in rewarding technology careers.” The market opportunity is huge: there are 25,082 cybersecurity job openings in Georgia alone; and at the entry level, cybersecurity analyst salaries begin at $57,000 – with top performers making as much as $133,500. For women who were previously unemployed or underemployed, a career in cybersecurity work can mean economic stability, respect, and a promise of a better future for them and their families. With the Career ConneXion program combining highly regarded certifications from a leading local academic institution with technical labs, WIT’s program also provides the kind of daily support and guidance that program participants say are making the difference as they re-train for exciting new careers in cybersecurity.
The WIT Career ConneXion Program is designed to prepare students for entry-level cybersecurity positions in just 12 weeks. The virtual, live classes are provided on the weekends, meaning a woman juggling a current work role or childcare responsibilities has the schedule flexibility to complete the work. WIT purposely keeps each cohort small with 20-25 women, so that participants can get one-to-one instructor attention and develop supportive relationships with their fellow classmates. Classes are a combination of instruction and hands-on lab work.
“We wanted to build a program for women who are otherwise blocked from technology careers because they do not have a traditional work background attributed to leaving the workforce to care for their families or have daily childcare responsibilities thus making a normal 9-5 job a challenge,” explains Penny Collins, WIT President and CEO. “The participating companies want to work with these women to create learning and working environments where they can thrive. This program provides the women the needed skills to prepare them for the fields that have many open opportunities for employment and then we help them get their foot in the door to interview for these amazing career opportunities.”
Here are a few testimonials of women and their experiences. “Thanks to WIT I was able to receive cybersecurity training through Emory and was able to enter the workforce at an awesome company as an information security compliance analyst,” Kelly Gilbert explained, “My life has totally changed since I found them, and I am forever grateful. They not only helped me but will help anyone willing to prepare themselves to be better, and also to grow.” Tyanna Stone shared, “WIT did what they promised, which was guaranteed job placement. Before, I was a single mother struggling to provide for my kids, now I’m able to provide everything and more for them.”
Although participants do not need previous cybersecurity knowledge or experience, they are expected to have completed a separate course in Information Technology Fundamentals. And once the academic course work is complete, WIT provides additional supportive career services to help participants get their resume and interviewing skills ready for their next phase: finding that entry-level cybersecurity job.
WIT’s innovative approach to create accessible career training for women from all walks of life serves as a model to the rest of the nation. Employers cannot rely on traditional pathways like four-year degree programs to prepare all the needed new talent; the demand is too great. Kudos to the engagement of the forward-thinking employer partners who realized the value of creating opportunities for these program graduates and have helped demonstrate that with proper technical education and hands-on training, a 12-week program can change a life.