Hacking the Gender Gap

Career Discovery in Cyber Security: A Women's Symposium

On Friday, October 17, the Career Discovery in Cyber Security: A Women's Symposium at New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering kicked off with an introduction by the school’s Computer Science Department Chair, Nasir Memon, followed by a keynote from McAfee’s Candace Worley. Over the course of the two-day conference, students and mid-career professionals alike took part in presentations and workshops presented by some of the most powerful women in the cyber security industry. With the gender gap in the cyber security field at such a significant margin, companies are more eager to seek out women interested in joining this growing industry.

The atmosphere at the symposium was rollicking at times, edge-of-your-seat thrilling at others, and—because every CISO and industry pro who participated was deeply invested in providing guidance and mentorship to the attendees--always warmly supportive.

The rollicking came courtesy of Shyama Rose, the VP of Information Security at entertainment behemoth Live Nation, who strode the stage looking just as rock-and-roll as any recording artist her company has ever worked with. “You’re women and you’re awesome, so own it,” she exhorted the audience, explaining that female cyber security experts should never apologize for their gender or feel intimidated by their male counterparts. “Besides,” she asserted, “I guarantee that you will be the life of every party when you tell people you hack for a living, because, really, how cool is that?”

The edge-of-your-seat thrills came when one of Saturday’s most highly anticipated speakers, speacial agent with the U.S. Secret Service, took to the stage to talk about her work. She explained that teams of agents are always monitoring social media sites like Twitter and Facebook—an absolute necessity since more than half of the threats made against the President are now made online. Agents are also consistently watching the so-called Dark Web—home to black markets that deal in illegal drugs, stolen credit cards, unlawful pornography, and other such items. Criminals get careless, she asserted, dropping digital clues that eventually lead to their arrest.

Lest you think that agents assigned to cyber security details remain cooped up at their desks all day, the agent explained that they are often out in the field, securing electronic evidence at crime scenes and traveling in advance to venues that will be hosting their high-level protectees. “Buildings have integrated systems now,” she said. “Elevators, HVAC systems, fire sprinklers are all networked together, and we have to be ready to act if anything goes wrong.”

The global impact and glaring need for cyber security is huge. Candace Worley, McAfee’s Senior Vice President and General Manager of Endpoint Security, expressed the growing need for cyber security professionals by defining what it protects against. “A cybercrime is a crime in which a computer is the subject of a crime,” Worley said. “Cyber security is the profession to thwart cybercrime.”

This is a new era of computing. The term, “The internet of things,” was used several times throughout the conference by speakers to convey the point that number devices which can connect to the internet is exponentially growing. The threat of cybercrime is very real and substantial.

“[Hacking] is essentially a job,” says Worley. “The global economy lost $445 billion in 2013 which resulted in the loss of over 200,000 jobs due to the effects of cybercrime.”

Kristen Hayduk, information security consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers, expanded on the theme: “[Cyber security] is no longer just an IT challenge, it’s a business imperative. Forty-nine percent of CEOs today are concerned with cyber security attacks on their companies.”

The overall impact of cybercrime is undeniable; however, the high-demand workforce in the field of cyber security remains predominantly male. While this is an extreme gender gap, there are few limitations that prevent professionals from entering this industry, none of which are specific to women. To the contrary, Worley told the audience that women are paid significantly more in the cyber security field than their female counterparts in other industries. Women make more in the cyber security industry relative to other industries and the pay gap between men and women in cyber security is much smaller than it is in other industries.

Joanne Martin, Cyber Information Security Officer for IBM, gave the closing keynote to the two-day conference and in it she presented critical career advice such as having both a mentor and a sponsor (who advocates on your behalf with others) to guide you through your goals in the workplace.

“It’s important to know what you want. Assuming things are safe is the worst thing you can do. The best thing we can do is develop a prepared mind,” Martin said. “In the workplace we need to know ourselves, know what we want, and how to get there through mentors.”

Work in the cyber security industry is rewarding and attendees throughout the symposium were able to hear the stories successful professionals and live the experiences through workshops that included real-world security issues. Women speakers from Yahoo, Etsy, Facebook, Google and other companies all gave presentations on the different aspects of the cyber security field and its vast impact. Attendees participated on their computers during the workshops, learning new skills and techniques used in the industry.

A graduate student studying computer science, Mansi Patel, exclaimed, “We were able to learn about the type of work performed in the industry—it’s been interesting to learn about the network expanding and how we are socially connected.”

The reasons to join this fast-paced industry are numerous and include helping to keep people safe—described by many speakers as an incredibly rewarding experience.

Worley said, “When you’re standing in front of a company and everything is at stake, you feel like a hero.”

The NYU School of Engineering was one of the first universities to develop a cyber security program, launching its master’s degree in cyber security in 1999. The school also offers numerous cyber security courses and extra-curricular opportunities for undergraduates. It has received all three Center of Excellence designations from the National Security Agency and the United States Cyber Command. Its cyber security program was previously singled out by the Sloan Consortium as the outstanding graduate online program.