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Advice for Women Considering a Cybersecurity Career from the Women at GRA Quantum

“Diversity drives innovation- when we limit who can contribute, we in turn limit what problems we can solve.”- Telle Whitney, former CEO and President of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology

Women make up 54.6% of the workforce in 2018. However, they represent only 20% of the global cybersecurity workforce at this time, according to Cybersecurity Ventures. While this represents a clear disparity, the gap has been shrinking steadily over the years and the women at GRA Quantum think it will continue to shrink.

“Historically, cybersecurity is not something you go to school to learn,” offered Merced Fityan, GRA Quantum’s Sr. Director of Customer Success.  “It’s something that you’ve had to teach yourself- which creates barriers to entry.  But, the major growth in the industry has attracted the attention of universities which bridges those barriers to entry and increases a woman’s ability to join.”

With a forecasted 3.5 million cybersecurity job openings in 2021, it’s no surprise that universities are taking a notice. This statistic is an exciting indication of the opportunity that women have to join the industry- and the opportunity that organizations have to increase their diversity.

According to a study by Josh Bersin, inclusive companies, or companies that value a diverse culture, are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market.  And, not surprisingly, innovation reaps immense financial benefits.

At GRA Quantum, we value the diversity of thought that comes from diversity of background.  That’s why our team has been growing- in size and in diversity.

“The culture here is very inclusive,” explained Jen Greulich, Director of Managed Security Services.  “We’re all treated as professionals in our area of expertise and we’re allowed to be the expert.”  

The idea of emphasizing diversity in organizations is no new concept- many leaders across industries are on board.  But then why does this gender gap remain so large in the cybersecurity industry?

It’s important to acknowledge that there are still lingering stereotypes that put women at a disadvantage.  For instance, men often get the benefit of the doubt when applying for jobs in the industry, whereas women generally have to take extra steps to prove their expertise, such as obtaining additional certifications.

Widespread cultural shifts like this can take time to affect; however, our smart and successful women at GRA Quantum have commanded respect throughout their careers and would offer the following advice to any woman considering the cybersecurity industry:

Tip 1:  It’s all in the mind: put an end to your self-imposed limitations.

We’ve heard it a million times: you are your own worst enemy.  This is especially true when it comes to professional improvements and, due to the persistent stereotypes, women in the cybersecurity industry may feel this more than in other industries.

Merced Fityan has mastered the mindset necessary for success in the industry.

“I don’t stop and label myself anything in particular.  I don’t stop and question things and freeze.  If I’m in a room full of men, I’m just in a room full of people,” said Merced. “You can always find limitations if you look for them- but, I assume I’ve earned my right at the table and don’t question it.”

Jen Greulich agreed, offering, “If you go into a situation assuming you will be treated differently, then you will perceive that you are being treated differently.  You must go into these situations with confidence, carrying yourself with professionalism- then the respect will follow.”

Tip 2:  You don’t have to have a degree in cybersecurity to establish yourself in the industry.

Entering the cybersecurity industry may seem intimidating; however, there are ways to enter the industry without a computer science background, without an expert ability in coding, and without a degree in cybersecurity.

What do you need?  The confidence we talked about earlier and an interest in the cybersecurity world.  Combine that with adjacent expertise and business acumen and you may have what it takes to begin building a career in cybersecurity.

“Our industry is growing and career paths span outside of the common IT and security operations arena. Sales, training, marketing, recruiting and business operations are a few of the contiguous growing fields in the industry,” offered Marissa Nichols, GRA Quantum’s Director of Marketing.

There are steps you can take to make the transition into cybersecurity easier.

“In addition to offering previous experience and business acumen, you need to be able to speak the language of the industry,” Marissa explained. “It can seem overwhelming to learn, but your value in an organization will be much greater when you can understand your customers and you can have meaningful conversations with your technical counterparts. Start by subscribing to tech and security columns in common publications such as The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. You won’t be expected to be a technical expert, but you will need to understand what’s happening in the industry.”

Tip 3:  If you have interest in the cybersecurity industry, give it a try.

After all, there’s only one way to know if the cybersecurity industry is for you.

“You should never let another’s expectations restrict you,” said Trystan Orr, Jr. SOC Analyst. “The cyber industry is rapidly growing and evolving and if you have the desire to learn and grow, you will fit in.”

Give it a chance, and give it time.

“Imposter syndrome is quite common in the industry.  For the first few years you may feel like an imposter,” said Jen.  “Don’t let those feelings hold you back because everybody feels that.  You are capable of doing more than you realize.”