According to PwC’s 2022 Global Digital Trust Insights Survey, cyber threats are now the number one risk to businesses in 2022. This was no doubt exacerbated by the pandemic, as the threat landscape and cybercrime continued to evolve while businesses transitioned to a more digital environment. At the same time, circumstances stemming from the pandemic have pushed many people out of the workforce to focus on personal and family issues, and women in particular exited the workplace at a higher rate than men.
In September 2020, when the academic year began with virtual school, more than a million Americans left their jobs, with women leaving the workforce at a rate five times that of their male counterparts, according to data from the Labor department. In the traditionally male dominated cybersecurity world, only a fifth of North America’s cyber workforce is female, down from nearly a third two years ago, according to the latest Cybersecurity Workforce Study from (ISC)².
This “shecession” identified in PwC’s 2021 Women in Work Index was not caused by a lack of work or a reduction in demand for cybersecurity services, but rather a lack of additional support for women, working moms and caregivers. When schools closed at the start of the pandemic two years ago, many were left without childcare. The responsibility of being a caretaker often disproportionately falls on female shoulders.
While demand for cybersecurity services continued to grow alongside cybercrime, many women’s careers were put on hold in order to homeschool children and/or care for relatives. This presented a unique challenge in the cybersecurity industry and progress for women in the cyber workforce slipped backward.
With the cyber talent shortage hitting a record high in the US as vacancies approach 600,000, losing women now is even more detrimental to the industry. This loss not only reverses progress towards gender equality, but can also stunt economic growth in the process. The challenge we face now is learning how to bring back those who left the workforce over the last two years, keep those who stayed, and attract female talent to the industry.
A switch to the cybersecurity industry can be a lucrative move for women experienced in their careers, even if they’re currently in different fields. Many women possess an analytical mentality, problem solving skills, perseverance and a risk management mindset, so it should come as no surprise that more than a quarter of women in tech reach the C-suite and executive level roles. On-the-job upskilling can help provide the background knowledge that women coming from other industries may not already have. When you create access to upskilling opportunities, and combine that with other transferable skills—the results can be impressive. Meeting women where they are and providing them with both the training and support they need to advance their careers in cybersecurity is pivotal if we want to close the gap in the tech sector.
As we move toward a different future, and with our children now physically back in school, it is crucial that we do not forget the lessons of the last two years.
We have found a flexible working schedule is not only key to retaining women in the workforce, as demonstrated with PwC’s new ways of working, but it can also help draw women back into the workplace. One of the foundational goals of our firm’s The New Equation was to adopt new flexible ways of working and strengthen our culture. Additional caregiver support and the option to work remotely can help us recruit female leaders into the cybersecurity industry. At PwC, we offer a wide range of benefits, including access to emergency childcare backup centers, because we understand how stressful no-show babysitters or daycare closures can be. This can help to reduce some of the stress felt by working parents and caregivers so they can pursue their career goals.
As cyber threats continue to evolve, recruitment and retention should be a priority. Women are an asset to this industry and it’s important that we attract and retain them in this field. Having seen rapid growth throughout the pandemic, the cyber industry has many opportunities for women looking to return to the profession or even to join for the first time. By encouraging women into the cyber workforce, we will come closer to gender parity and create a competitive industry.