Five tips for women to build a career in cybersecurity

Representation of women in the cybersecurity industry has grown over the past years and, while this is positive, there is still room for improvement. Growth and success in this area requires that everyone work together to amplify but this is easier said than done. How can those interested in cybersecurity further develop their careers? What can those who would like to be an ally do? To answer this, we asked a couple of women on the Cisco cybersecurity team across Africa to share their journey and experiences and a few common themes stood out.

Interestingly, not everyone in cybersecurity started with a technical background. Some of the women currently in cybersecurity started in non-stem-related courses. Cybersecurity was also seen as a growing industry with a choice of job opportunities and diverse career paths to pursue, including engineering, consultation, leadership, and entrepreneurial opportunities. There was one bright spot that all the women we spoke to highlighted and this was the importance of having allies at different stages of their journey.

Allies, as in people who support and advocate towards a common purpose of growing representation in cybersecurity. Allies advocating for women’s representation in cybersecurity are not just women and not just people in cybersecurity. It is anyone who can contribute towards the common purpose of representation of more women in the industry. Here are some tips and best practices for developing within cybersecurity as well as becoming an ally.

Developing in Cybersecurity:

  1. There is a huge skill gap currently within the industry.  Investing time in certifications and trainings on cybersecurity skills can open doors to new opportunities. Some sought-after certifications in the industry are CCNA, CyberOps, CCNP, CISM, CISSP, CompTia Security+, CHFI, CISA, CISM, CRISC. Supplementing these with leadership trainings can be beneficial if you are looking at going down a leadership path in this industry.
  2. Take the time to find a mentor and a sponsor. The two terms can easily be confused at times. A mentor is someone whose path you would like to follow and guides you based on their learned experiences. A sponsor is someone who has influence, a seat at the table, knows your career vision, and can advocate for you. Among the women we spoke to, this has been a common theme along their journey. Here are some interesting stories of women in the industry sharing their experiences of mentors and sponsors.
  3. Align yourself to a group supporting women in cybersecurity. There are many groups globally centered around women in cybersecurity. Being a part of groups and forums can give you opportunities around training, networking, exposure, and career progression. Here is a list of groups and forums that are out there.
  4. Networking can give you exposure and access to opportunities. It is also something that you can leverage to make you successful at any part of your journey. Managing to build meaningful relationships can serve you well. Online many accessible videos can give you tips and best practices on networking, here is an interesting Tedx on meaningful networking. Networking is also about exposure, which forums and attending industry events can help with.
  5. Thought leadership in cybersecurity can build your exposure and set the tone of being an industry expert. Contributing to knowledge articles and creating posts can foster this. Platforms like LinkedIn provide you with the tools and audience needed.

Being an ally in cybersecurity:

  1. Encourage women to pursue STEM as a further education degree. Research from isc2 has this as a leading indicator for growing representation in the industry. Volunteering to advocate at university career events, raising awareness on social platforms, or volunteering in different forums that promote STEM can help with this.
  2. Providing sponsorship and mentorship opportunities develops representation. Signing up as a mentor on various forums, spotting and grooming future talent, being a connector, and being accessible to people seeking sponsorship or mentorship help in being an ally in the industry.
  3. Advocate eliminating the pay and promotion gap. According to isc2, there is still an inequity for compensation within the industry.  Contributing towards training opportunities, development through mentorship, grooming candidates through a leadership track contribute to closing that gap.
  4. Share your experiences to inspire women to pursue cybersecurity roles because the industry needs more role models. Be it a successful woman within cybersecurity or a man advocating for women in cybersecurity. Cybersecurity needs role models in both women and men to foster curiosity, awareness, and inspiration as we move forward and amplify as allies.

Cybersecurity is an industry filled with opportunities ripe for the taking. Growing women’s representation in cybersecurity has advantages for all. There is a direct link for companies who have diverse teams which result in increased revenue. There is a direct link to creativity and innovation in companies that have diversity. Working jointly as allies and focusing on self-development will have representation continue to rise.


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