Black Hat 2018: Retaining and promoting women cyber-security staffers

News by Doug Olenick

A great deal of time and effort is dedicated to trying to boost the number of women in cyber-security, but not enough is placed on retaining and promoting the women already in the field.

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A great deal of time and effort is dedicated to trying to boost the number of women in cyber-security, but not enough is placed on retaining and promoting the women already in the field, said Ashley Holtz, a forensic and security expert with NBCUniversal.

In her session "The Science of Hiring and Retaining Female Cybersecurity Engineers" at Black Hat 2018, Holtz boiled down the results of more than 100 reports conducted worldwide on the topic of women working in engineering and cyber-security. She found, for the most part, that women want the same thing as men: job security, a chance to be promoted and fair pay. But there are other factors that come in to play, such as flexible work hours and feeling supported by the company.

However, the problem starts right out of the gate with the hiring process. Holtz said companies interested in increasing the number of women workers need to post job openings where women will see them and to ensure the description is not only gender neutral, but accurate.

"The job description language needs to be relevant to the role and inform an applicant how the company supports its workers," said Holtz, formerly a services engineering manager at Crowdstrike.

Holtz noted that many job postings contain skill sets which are not really needed to do the job in question, which deters many qualified people from applying. In addition, to interest more women outside the field, it might be necessary to open up the experience requirements of applicants, she said.

Once the hiring process is completed, the next issue is retention.

"Seventy-four percent of women report loving their work, yet these women are leaving their careers at a staggering rate," she said, noting that after 30 years on the job only 19 percent of women engineers are still in the field, compared to 39 percent of men.

Holtz did discount some of the usual excuses given for this, such as leaving to start families, saying studies show only about 20 percent of women leave the workforce entirely and most of those do not cite motherhood as the reason.

Some factors that help retain women are recognising and rewarding their contributions equally with their male counterparts, equal pay, treating all employees the same after taking a leave of absence, training managers to notice harassment and unfair treatment, and empowering all workers to speak and advocate for themselves.

Once women are successfully retained, the next step is ensuring they are promoted up the ladder, Holtz said.

To accomplish this task, women must be actively sponsored and mentored by people who can help them reach their goals. Additionally, leadership goals should be advertised internally for all to see, and executives need to have the proper metrics to evaluate their female workers.

Finally, companies should not push women into non-technical admin and project lead roles, when they can instead be considered for technical lead roles.

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