Women make up less than 20 percent of the cybersecurity workforce according to most estimates. Supporting the community of women in cybersecurity and highlighting the work of accomplished women from across academia and industry are the goals of CyLab’s Lorrie Cranor and the Information Networking Institute’s (INI) Dena Haritos Tsamitis at this week’s Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) conference, hosted by Carnegie Mellon University March 28-30.
“There is already a massive shortage of people trained to work in the cybersecurity area,” says Cranor, who directs Carnegie Mellon’s CyLab Security and Privacy Institute and is a professor in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy and the Institute for Software Research. “This is exacerbated by the fact that few women work in this area. We need to expand the workforce.”
Diversity is key
One key ingredient in a successful cybersecurity workforce, Cranor argues, is diversity.
“Diversity leads to good problem solving,” Cranor says. “We need to have diverse teams working on cybersecurity problems.”
Haritos Tsamitis, the Barbara Lazarus Professor in Information Networking and director of the INI, agrees.
“Research has shown that companies with a diverse workforce perform better financially, as well as in employee productivity and performance,” Haritos Tsamitis says. “We need to shift the conversation, correct the misconceptions about working in cybersecurity and start talking about the myriad of pathways within the field.”
Efforts at CMU
Haritos Tsamitis began addressing the unique challenges met by women in the male-dominated field back in 2005, when she co-founded “Women @ INI” (WINI).
“WINI fosters a respectful, inclusive environment that allows students to openly discuss the common struggles they face as women in the field, demonstrate their qualifications with confidence, and serve as role models for the next generation of women in STEM,” Haritos Tsamitis says. “WINI has created a culture of paying it forward; many of our alumnae go on to create similar groups to support women in tech at their workplaces.”
In addition, the INI offers a full scholarship to one woman each year to study information security, thanks to a longstanding partnership with the Executive Women’s Forum on Information Security, Risk Management, and Privacy. Since 2007, 11 scholarships have been awarded.
“Through this scholarship, we are closing the gender gap one student at a time,” Haritos Tsamitis says.
Cranor says that for years, Carnegie Mellon has been trying to increase the number of girls and women in the STEM fields more generally, starting with outreach activities to middle school and high school girls.
“Once we get women into our academic programs, we have organizations in place to help support them,” Cranor says. “In the School of Computer Science, 50 percent of our undergraduates are now women.”
Convening at WiCyS 2019
Cranor and Haritos Tsamitis are both speaking at this week’s WiCyS conference, but when they are away from the podium, they look forward to meeting young women who are interested in pursuing security and privacy careers.
“I believe the attendees of WiCyS are the future of cybersecurity,” Haritos Tsamitis says. “I hope to inspire them to put their whole heart into this incredible conference experience. CMU is the birthplace of cybersecurity, so it’s only fitting we host the next generation of security researchers, hackers, and leaders in Pittsburgh.”
Keynote: Tales of an Accidental Computer Science Professor
Friday, March 29, 2019
Speaker: Lorrie Cranor, director, CyLab Security and Privacy Institute
Panel: Paying It Forward: How Women in Tech Groups Can Spark a Culture Shift—And How You Can Help!
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Speaker / Moderator: Dena Haritos Tsamitis, director, Information Networking Institute
- Saralee Kunlong: Senior Software Engineer, Yellowpages, and INI alumna
- Divya Ashok: Senior Director, Product Management, Salesforce, and INI alumna
- Era Vuksani: Current INI student and Women@INI co-chair
Haritos Tsamitis has co-led the organization of WiCyS 2019 with Bobbie Stempfley, the director of Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute’s CERT Division. View the full WiCyS 2019 conference agenda.