Industry Trends

Diversifying the Cybersecurity Workforce this International Women’s Day

By Barbara Maigret | March 08, 2021
Fortinet Survey Finds Widespread Impact from Cybersecurity Skills Shortage

FortinetLife Perspectives

International Women's Day was first observed in the early 1900’s, and March 8 has become, over time, a day of global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This year's call to action for accelerating women's equality is particularly important because of the disproportionate social and economic effect the pandemic has had on women over the last year, causing major setbacks in the progress towards gender equality. Indeed, COVID-19 has amplified the disparities in many areas, including social and healthcare protection, division of household labor, childcare, technology access, and education. 

On a more positive note, the pandemic also has illuminated how and where social programs are failing, pushing governments and public and private organizations to take concrete actions to address issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.

This year, the theme for International Women's Day is #ChooseToChallenge to encourage people to commit to helping forge a more inclusive world. Fortinet is no exception. We are committed to promoting gender diversity inside our company and to help engage more women in the cybersecurity sector.

Closing the Cybersecurity Skills Gap Through Diversity

Improving diversity in cybersecurity is a key issue. The (ISC)2 2020 Cybersecurity Workforce Study revealed that there is a global shortage of 3.1 million trained cybersecurity professionals. 

The study also found that more than half (56%) of IT and security professionals feel that cybersecurity staff shortages are putting their organizations at risk. In fact, according to a recent Fortinet report on the cybersecurity skills shortage, 68% of organizations struggle to recruit, hire, and retain cybersecurity talent, while 73% had at least one intrusion / breach over the past year that can be partially attributed to a gap in cybersecurity skills; 47% had three or more. 

With women representing just 20 to 25% of the current workforce depending on sources, it's clear that improving diversity is a strategic imperative that has the potential to limit—or possibly even close—the current cybersecurity skills gap. In addition to helping develop new employees, fostering an inclusive workplace environment improves retention. 

How Fortinet is Helping to Close the Gender Gap Within the Cybersecurity Workforce

Fortinet is putting concrete actions in place internally to help close the gender gap. This year, we are publishing our first Diversity and Inclusion Report, which sets the baseline of where we are now, and documents our commitments and the actions we have undertaken to build a more inclusive organization, industry, and global community.

We also are working to promote women in the cybersecurity industry through several programs:

At last, in early 2020 we opened up our self-paced NSE (Network Security Expert) advanced security training courses for free, and recently announced that the courses will remain free beyond 2021 as it supports our commitment to developing a diverse cybersecurity workforce. Fortinet NSE Training Institute has delivered over 950,000+ free self-paced training courses to date and we are proud of the global reach and access we are able to offer through this program.

Changing Perceptions in the Cybersecurity Industry

Although programs and training are extremely important, to have a real long-term impact, resources and perceptions need to change. The digital divide and resulting lack of access to technical resources affect career options for women and contributes to their underrepresentation among potential job candidates. 

Persistent gender stereotypes also continue to plague STEM fields, and cybersecurity is no exception. In fact, the 2020 (ISC)2Cybersecurity Perception Study found that twice as many women as men find the profession intimidating. 

Currently, there is no educational foundation to inspire interest or influence the public’s understanding of what cybersecurity is or how cybersecurity professionals perform their tasks. However, if we can help make cybersecurity and the broader tech sector more attractive to women, they are more likely to pursue studies in the field. So, it’s important we make young women and girls aware of the good reasons why they should join the cybersecurity industry: 

  • Contribution to society: we live in a digital world in which protecting data and individual privacy has become a key sustainability issue
  • Personal interest: cybersecurity is in constant evolution, which makes this field very satisfying intellectually
  • Opportunity: there are many open jobs to fill, which also makes this sector attractive financially as well as in terms of career evolution

Expanding the Cybersecurity Workforce With More Women

Improving team diversity benefits organizations, and the time to start hiring more women is now. Studies show that women bring both hard and soft skills in terms of leadership, analytical aptitude, and interpersonal communications. In fact, research shows more diverse teams perform better because they bring different viewpoints and ideas to the table, which improves problem solving. In fact, hiring a diverse workforce can even improve a company's financial performance.

On the flip side, women have to dare to take the leap into cybersecurity. At Fortinet, we are helping to convince them that cybersecurity cannot only be a good fit, but that they also can bring great value to it. Many educational paths exist that can help women either start a career or evolve their career toward cybersecurity. While the change starts with women, we, here at Fortinet, want to help. That’s why we are working to put an end to gender stereotypes across all technology sectors, so our children can grow up in a fairer and more equitable society. So, let’s take that first step by celebrating the rich diversity of skills and experiences that women bring to the workplace today and every day!

Find out more about Fortinet’s NSE Training Institute programs, including the Certification ProgramSecurity Academy Program and Veterans Program, which provide critical cybersecurity training and education to help solve the cyber skills gap and prepare the cybersecurity workforce of tomorrow.