WASHINGTON – Ellison Anne Williams has a Ph.D. in mathematics and experience at the National Security Agency. She’s accomplished and smart.
So what happened at a recent meeting dismayed her, although it is not uncommon for women in cybersecurity.
“I was in the room and the fellow walked in. He stopped dead in his tracks and the first words out of his mouth were, ‘You’re a girl.’ And I said, ‘Yes, what were you expecting?’ ” said Williams, founder of Enveil, a data security firm.
Males hold three out of four jobs in the tech world, but it is in cybersecurity where the lack of participation of women is most acute. Only 14 percent of the U.S. workforce in cybersecurity is female. Those women talk of glass ceilings and insensitivity.
The gender imbalance has potential consequences for the nation’s security. The U.S. already has a shortage of cybersecurity workers, even as global hacking threats grow. The shortage is forecast to worsen. A study by Frost & Sullivan, a consulting firm, found that North America will face a shortage of 265,000 cybersecurity workers by 2022.
“Everyone has a story where you’re the only woman in the room, and being asked to take notes,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future, a Boston-area cyberthreat intelligence firm.
The cybersecurity industry has yet to take the gender imbalance seriously, she said.
“Women are not getting promoted at the same rate as men are, and women are not getting salary increases at the same rate as men are even though they are asking for and applying at the same rate,” Moriuchi said.
Some nonprofit groups and private companies actively promote training to get younger girls involved. They include goodgirlswritecode.org and girlswhocode.com.
Some executives said girls turn their backs on tech and cybersecurity careers at a young age. Electronic games and movies reinforce stereotypes that tech and cybersecurity are for males, said Kim Tremblay, founder of Arctic Wolf Networks, a Sunnyvale, Calif., security firm.
In middle and high schools, girls interested in computer science and coding clubs commonly feel little social support, several executives said.
Ashley Podhradsky, a professor of computer forensics at Dakota State University, is among experts trying to change this. In 2015, Podhradsky founded a residential cybersecurity summer camp for girls under a trademarked name: CybHER Security. Last year, the camp attracted 130 students from 16 states.
The camp is free, and the costs are partly funded by the National Security Agency and private companies.
Once out in the workplace, women in cybersecurity often find themselves being the only woman in a room.
“There’s a lot of unconscious bias in hiring,” said Lisa Jiggetts, founder of Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu, a support community for women in the field. “There’s conscious bias, too. For whatever reason, women aren’t viewed as capable and skillful in the field.”
Leah Figueroa, lead data engineer at Gravwell, a data analytics company, said she has colleagues whose “clients won’t speak directly to them” in meetings. “They just default to speaking to the men.”