Current State of the Cybersecurity Industry
Our nation’s robust cybersecurity industry will grow from $75 billion in 2015 to $170 billion by 20201. Additionally, the United States White House Administration’s 2019 budget has allocated approximately $15 billion in spending to fund critical initiatives and research in the cybersecurity space, up from $14.4 billion in 2018 and $13.1 billion in 20172. In 2018, cyber-attacks have continued to increase with the advent of more complex and fast technology. For example, crypto-mining and 5G will continue to grow and become more sophisticated than in previous years3.
The growth in cyber threats has created a robust cybersecurity labor market with various well published reports estimating 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs will be unfilled by 20214. Although cybersecurity is a promising career path, it lacks gender diversity. Globally, women lack representation in the cybersecurity profession accounting for only 11%-14% over the past five years5. For example, recent research from Cybersecurity Ventures predict women will represent over 20% of the global cybersecurity workforce by the end of 2019. Although this is a promising statistic, 20% is still too low for global estimates. This is especially true since there are more progressive countries, like Australia, reporting 25% of women in the cybersecurity workforce.
One way for the cybersecurity industry to address the workforce shortage and gender diversity challenge is to focus on hiring female veterans who have served in the *United States Armed Forces. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are over 20 million veterans in the U.S. and female veterans account for 9% of the veteran population6. That’s almost 2 million female veterans that are highly skilled and have received specialized training in fields that are applicable to meet the demanding cybersecurity jobs the industry is seeking to fill.
Some Challenges Facing Female Veterans Entering the Cybersecurity Workforce
Female veterans are fortunate to have practical experience and possess the same technical and soft-skills (e.g. leadership, problem-solving, critical thinking, etc.) as many of their male counterparts. However, many of these women face challenges finding employment in the cybersecurity industry. Challenges such as discrimination, lack of understanding transferable skills, and unstable employment are serious barriers female veterans must overcome to have a successful cybersecurity career path.
According to a recent 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study, 51% of women in the cybersecurity workforce has experienced discrimination7.
Although this statistic did not disaggregate how many were female veterans, we can surmise female veterans face discrimination as well. Oftentimes discrimination against female veterans is more pronounced because the military is male-dominated and female veterans are considered a minority in the overall veteran population. However, there are several cybersecurity organizations that have been created in the last 5-7 years, such as Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS)8 and The Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu (WSC)9. These organizations provide supportive networks for women in the cybersecurity field. These organizations help women to build their professional networks. Additionally, they function as support for mentorship, training, knowledge-sharing, and employment opportunities.
Challenges such as discrimination, lack of understanding transferable skills, and unstable employment are serious barriers female veterans must overcome to have a successful cybersecurity career path.
Another challenge for female veterans is there’s no direct mapping of military careers to current cybersecurity jobs. These jobs would allow veterans to express their transferable skills on their resume. The lack of understanding by many employers when it comes to hiring veterans gets further complicated when the veteran is unable to articulate the importance of their military jobs. Also, employers often do not understand how their skills are applicable to the cybersecurity domain. For example, when I served in the U.S. Army during the early 90’s, my military occupation specialty (MOS or job in layman’s terms) was a 74C – Army Record Telecommunications Operator; some of the duties were, “supervises and manages personnel performing operations and maintenance of tactical and strategic telecommunications centers, enforces information security (INFOSEC), operations security (OPSEC), and physical security per regulations and policies10”.
All those duties are important skills for cybersecurity employment. However, cybersecurity was not a term in our lexicon during the early 90s. Therefore, it was also challenging for me to translate my military training to address the current cybersecurity job descriptions. However, what assisted me in transitioning from the military to the cybersecurity workforce was my pursuit of an advanced degree in computer science coupled with my civilian experiences working at the National Security Agency. If the female veteran does not have a good understanding of how their skills are transferable, this could be a detriment to them finding employment within the cybersecurity industry.
Finally, female veterans tend to experience higher unemployment than their male veteran peers, which is concerning since many female veterans may be the main provider of their household and/or a caregiver of a family member. According to Hire Heroes USA, “post-9/11 veteran unemployment rate of 5.6% for women remains higher than the 3.6% national average. … women veterans are also between two and four times more likely than non-veteran women to experience homelessness.11” These statistics are extremely troubling considering cybersecurity jobs are growing at exponential rates with starting salaries that tend to be higher than the average salaries in other fields. According to Indeed, a job-search engine, the average starting salary for an entry-level cybersecurity analyst is over $56K annually12; these salaries tend to increase with added experience, training, academic credentials, and/or industry certifications. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offers free cybersecurity training for veterans through the Federal Virtual Training Environment (FedVTE)13, which is an important source for female veterans to increase their skills and employability.
Female Veteran Military Careers that are Transferrable to Cybersecurity
Several popular military career fields for women provide the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) for them to thrive in the cybersecurity industry. Military career fields such as Intelligence, Engineering and Applied Science, as well as Computers and Computer Science consist of technical work roles that are “more compatible” to the cybersecurity field. However, cybersecurity is a multi-disciplinary field. Therefore, work roles in Public Affairs, Healthcare, Financial Management, and Transportation to name a few, are additional career fields popular with female veterans that are applicable to cybersecurity as well.
For example, female veterans with experience in Public Affairs, Marketing, and Multimedia can apply their KSAs towards cybersecurity jobs that utilize social media and digital marketing. Veterans from these careers understand how to leverage social media to elevate business content while keeping information and business profiles secure on the Internet. Another compliment to these careers are specialization backgrounds in communications and human resources. Given the amount of cyber-attacks that have occurred over the past 5 years that have led to public data breaches of over 200 million records (e.g. Equifax, Target, and OPM), having personnel who are well-versed in public relations, communications, and personnel records are key to protecting corporate brand and instilling public confidence.
Another popular career for female veterans is within Healthcare. Female veterans who have training in counseling and social work may not seem like an ideal fit for cybersecurity jobs; however, studying human behavior as it relates to cybersecurity has become a growth area. With the onset of cyber threats to include social engineering tactics (e.g. email phishing); cybersecurity has been identified as a “people” problem. According to IBM’s Cyber Security Intelligence Index, it was revealed that over 90% of cyber breaches occur because of human error14. This means through intentional acts (e.g. insider threat) or unintentional acts (e.g. victim of phishing), organizational personnel are contributing to data breaches and leaks of protected information more frequently. Jobs like behavioral analysts and other titles associated with human behavior (e.g. behavioral analytics, human-computer interaction, etc.) are needed more than ever to combat human cybersecurity challenges.
Finally, female veterans who have training in career fields such as Logistics, Transportation, and Maintenance are essential to the growing cybersecurity critical infrastructure sectors which consists of the most essential aspects of our society to include Energy, Financial Services, Transportation, and Emergency Services. DHS has stated more than 80% of the country’s energy infrastructure is owned by the private sector; this means most of the energy sector’s industrial control systems are probably managed over the Internet making them at risk to cyber-attacks15. Since our society is dependent on these critical infrastructures, disruption to any part of the U.S. critical infrastructures and industrial control systems could potentially have severe implications on our daily lives. Female veterans who have knowledge, skills, and abilities to assess risk, manage complex systems, and are trained to respond to incidents would be prime cybersecurity candidates to protect and defend the nation’s most vital assets.
Cyber threats are increasing in volume, velocity, and veracity. Therefore, it is imperative to fill cybersecurity jobs with talented, skilled individuals who possess the requisite experiences, knowledge, and training necessary to meet our national security needs. In addressing diversity and talent, female veterans can address the cybersecurity workforce and diversity needs. However, the challenges discussed in this article would need to be addressed to insure these veterans are supported so they can thrive in their cybersecurity career. The careers discussed in this article are just a sampling of some of the military careers that are transferable to meet the cybersecurity jobs that are going unfilled; it’s imperative employers recognize the immeasurable value female veterans bring to the cybersecurity workforce.
*United States Armed Forces are comprised of the following five service branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.