What Brings Women to Cybersecurity?

This was the question I tried to answer at the European Interdisciplinary Cybersecurity Conference two weeks ago. Summing up a case study where we compare women in cybersecurity with women in other IT disciplines, I talked about which similarities and differences we found between the two groups. The study is based on 24 in-depth interviews with women studying or holding PhD, Postdoc or early research recruitment positions in academia, 12 in cybersecurity and 12 in other IT disciplines in STEM faculties.

Women are a minority in cybersecurity as well as IT in general, however, there has been some overall improvement in women’s participation, but not in cybersecurity. The graphs below visualize the massive male dominance in these disciplines.  

Women in Cybersecurity and women in other IT disciplines share some features, like a notable lack of knowledge about IT disciplines when they are in transition between upper secondary/high school and university. The unfortunate result is that stereotypical ideas of IT, with images of male «geeks» and «hooded gamers» who had started programming early, dominate women’s expectations of ICT at university, and they don’t see themselves fit within this image: «I had never programmed before in my life“. The interviews document that there is still a strong association of IT with masculine stereotypes, and more, such ideas about IT becomes a barrier for women to choose any IT disciplines, including cybersecurity.

There are also differences between women in cybersecurity and other IT fields, for instance that cybersecurity was described as open for a more varied set of competences. The women could recognize their own strengths and expertise from other disciplines, like arts and social sciences, as relevant in cybersecurity, and this became an important door opener for many of them. We also found that it was easier for women to understand and associate themselves with the goals of cybersecurity rather than with the goals of other IT disciplines. They saw cybersecurity as a field concerning «everybody» and everyday life, thus not only relevant for women but also in need of women.

You can hopefully read more when the paper is published by ACM as:
Corneliussen, H. G. (2020). What Brings Women to Cybersecurity? A Qualitative Study of Women’s Pathways to Cybersecurity in Norway, European Interdisciplinary Cybersecurity Conference (EICC 2020).

Update: the article is now published online by ACM

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