Women represent one-half of the workforce in the United States, yet when it comes to professions in the cyber industry, female representation is lacking.
A recent report from Cybersecurity Ventures suggests that the number of women in the cyber industry is 20 percent when including a more diverse job title range and smaller companies. Even so, with a workforce shortage in the industry, there is a ripe opportunity for women to enter this field with the potential to earn top-paying, leadership roles.
Melissa McCoy, Gina Abate, Dr. Emma Garrison-Alexander and Christina Majernik — all top leaders in the cyber industry — aim to showcase the barriers women face in the cyber industry and how to break them during their panel discussion at The Daily Record’s Women’s Leadership Summit.
Melissa McCoy, who serves as the chief technology officer at Kaizen Approach, a security consulting firm based in Columbia, says that even though she has been in the field for more than 30 years, women weren’t always a minority in cyber and tech, representing almost half of her department. Even her boss at the time was a woman.
But, as time went on, McCoy noticed women in information technology roles became proportionately smaller.
“In the past seven to 10 years, I’ve noticed that I am now one of the only women in the room. That can be pretty intimidating for someone just starting out,” she said.
Dr. Emma Garrison-Alexander, vice dean of the Cybersecurity & Information Assurance Department in the graduate school at the University of Maryland University College, believes media and television have played a big role in shaping views of women in the tech industry — not always in a positive way. While working with a group of girls for the Cool Careers in Cybersecurity for Girls program, she noticed that almost all of the girls wanted to do something in fashion, design or entertainment. The girls who did have an interest in STEM-related fields, she said, had some sort of influence in their life that propelled their interest in science- and math-related fields.
She and the other panelists want women to know that the cyber industry fits with any field of interest.
“There are so many different dimensions of cyber that you don’t even have to touch the technical parts,” Garrison-Alexander said. “You can do policy. You can do legal. You can do law enforcement. There are so many facets to the cyber industry, and they are not relegated to just the technology piece.”
Gina Abate, president and CEO of Edwards Performance Solutions in Elkridge, would agree.
“Historically, cyber has mirrored other tech industries in being a heavily male-dominated industry. But cyber is so much more. As people realize the full extent of cyber professions and we promote STEM programs earlier, the cybersecurity industry will benefit from diverse perspectives,” she said.
There is a shortage of qualified individuals to fill all the various roles in the cyber industry. According to CyberSeek, a website that tracks the cybersecurity job market, there are 285,681 unfilled jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs for information security analysts in the U.S. will grow 28 percent by 2026. The average salary for an analyst in 2017 was $95,510.
“With cyber remaining a national focus, a major obstacle continues to be a shortage of experienced and trained professionals. We must continue to offer internships and apprenticeships that prepare our workforce as they enter the cyber industry,” Abate said.
McCoy also thinks that the emphasis on teaching programming in schools may be turning potential candidates off. When she is asked to participate in recruitment programs or to speak at local colleges, she tries to stress that programming or coding is really such a small part of the job.
“Maybe 5 percent of my time is doing programming. Most of the work in IT is configuring what software vendors put out there. You need to know how to configure, manage or troubleshoot it,” she said. “I’m worried that the focus on programming is creating an artificial barrier.”
The panelists also want to stress that everyone, male or female, starts from the bottom.
“Everyone has to learn and develop their skills and we all have to go through training and education,” Garrison-Alexander said.
Christina Majernik, CEO of Domain5, a cybersecurity firm in Columbia, said that the cyber industry is no different than any other male-dominated field. The key to breaking barriers is learning new skills.
“With no formal education in cybersecurity, I worked extremely hard to self-educate and build my industry knowledge, knowing that this field was only going to grow,” Majernik said. “I’ve also encountered obstacles typical of most male-dominated industries. Typically, I was and still am the only woman in the room. I’ve learned that you cannot wait to be invited to the table. You must build a thick skin and be confident; find and take your seat.”
McCoy couldn’t agree more — adding that if there were any true barrier, it would be lack of confidence.
“There’s no difference between men and women as far as technology is concerned. I see no advantage that men have,” McCoy said. “I think that the only thing that gets in your way is your own insecurity. Some of the smartest women, they don’t think twice. They know they are good.”
Meet the presenters
Senior VP, Client Solutions, Domain5
Christina Majernik is Senior V.P., Client Solutions at Domain5, a subsidiary of FEDDATA, a $350M leading provider of technology and data security services to industry and government. Previously, she was Founder and CEO of Secquity Advisors, a MD-based cybersecurity firm. She also played a leading role in creating the Center for Cybersecurity Training at UMBC Training Centers. A non-traditional cybersecurity professional herself, Christina is passionate about highlighting non-traditional cybersecurity career opportunities for women and minorities and currently serves on the Cybersecurity Association of Maryland’s Board of Directors, Workforce Development Committee and Diversity in Cyber Committee.
President & CEO, Edwards Performance Solutions
Gina Abate is President and CEO of Edwards Performance Solutions, a woman owned small business helping organizations achieve secure operational performance. Under her leadership, Edwards expanded its offerings to include cybersecurity and IT services. She has 30+ years of proven leadership with executive, technical, and business management experience in the Federal Government as a Civil Servant and a commercial sector contractor. A strong proponent for more women seeking careers in cybersecurity, Gina currently serves as the Cybersecurity Association of Maryland’s Board of Directors Chairperson where she established its Diversity in Cyber Committee.
Dr. Emma Garrison-Alexander
Vice President of Cybersecurity & Info Assurance Dept. in graduate school at University of Maryland University College
Dr. Emma Garrison-Alexander is Vice Dean of the Cybersecurity & Information Assurance Department in the graduate school at the University of Maryland University College. Previously, she served as Assistant Administrator for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) under the Department of Homeland Security. She also served 25 years with the National Security Agency (NSA)/Department of Defense, starting as an Electronic Engineer and holding leadership positions in Technology and Systems, Signals Intelligence, Information Assurance, and Research & Development. She was recently appointed to serve on the Cybersecurity Association of Maryland’s Advisory Council.
Chief Technology Officer, Kaizen Approach
Melissa McCoy contributes 30 years of security and information assurance experience to Kaizen Approach where she serves as Chief Technology Officer. Her background is primarily in commercial IT environments with recent years spent assisting the Intelligence Community. Melissa earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Penn State University and her Masters in Information Technology from George Washington University. She has earned various professional certifications and is a current member of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA), Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) and the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2.