Why We Must Work Together To Close The Great Cyber Divide

“I work to feed my family, I volunteer to feed my soul”author unknown

Our 2nd Annual National Conference of the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals (ICMCP) came to its climatic finish last Thursday night with a ceremony awarding scholarships and certification vouchers totaling over $100K (a big thanks again to the generosity of our sponsors) to young women and people of color.

As a minority myself who had frequently experienced being the ‘only one in the room’, I cofounded ICMCP in 2014 with Carlos Edwards, Associate Director of Cybersecurity Technical Operations, IRS and Larry Whiteside Jnr Executive Security Advisor, to do what we could to close the ‘great minority cyber divide’ that exists within my chosen profession. Despite the current lack of diversity, this occupation offers a multitude of possibilities and opportunities for all practitioners agnostic of race, gender, religion, ethnicity since the problems faced by our industry transcend all those demographic categories.


According to Frost & Sullivan’s 2017 International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC) Global Information Security Workforce Study (GISWS) of over 19,000 information security professionals globally, across 170 countries, women represent only 11% of the total cybersecurity workforce despite a projected workforce shortfall of 1.5 million people during the next five years due to a lack of trained professionals. The percentage representation of African Americans and Hispanics in cybersecurity has been reported at approximately 12% combined for both these groups.

This workforce shortfall should be of much consternation given that cybercrime and information theft, to include cyber espionage are some of the most serious economic and national security challenges that the country faces. It has also been reported that this under-participation by large segments of our society represents a loss of opportunity for individuals, a loss of talent in the workforce, and a loss of creativity in shaping the future of cybersecurity. Not only is it a basic equity issue, but it threatens our global economic viability as a nation.

A well respected industry thought-leader at last year’s ICMCP Inaugural National Conference challenged our industry with a call to action of “Just One.”  Edna Conway, the Chief Security Officer of Global Value Chain Security at Cisco Systems called upon existing practitioners within our industry to reach back, reach out and provide mentorship to “Just One” female student or student or color who may not be considering cybersecurity or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines as a career path. Her “Just One” clarion call resonates on so many levels.  “Imagine our collective impacts not just on our industry, but on the trajectory of the lives we would change” Edna said, “if each of us, would just make a deliberate effort, to mentor Just One.

The workforce shortfall and the growing diversity gap in the cybersecurity industry in the United States also reflects the broader challenge that the USA faces in STEM programs in our schools. Until we can get more students matriculating with STEM-related degrees, these challenges faced within the cybersecurity industry and overall information technology industry will persist. According to the PEW Research ‘Fact Tank’ Report of International Students in Math and Science, American 15 year olds were ranked 38th out of the 71 countries included in the report.  The results were only slightly more encouraging for our 8 year olds, who were ranked 11th out of the 38 countries included. As a country, we have to be laser-focused on quality and retention in middle and high school STEM programs, as these formative years determine the future talent pipeline for the cybersecurity workforce.

Helping to get more students involved in STEM from an early age should be an imperative for all cybersecurity professionals. There are several great programs that already cater to this need. Before starting ICMCP, I volunteered for a few years as a technical mentor for high school robotics through the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) organization, which works to make science attractive to youth through their FIRST Robotics, FIRST LEGO League, FIRST LEGO League Jr., and FIRST Tech Challenge competitions. The high school team I choose to mentor was a high school in the Southwest Ward of Washington DC. Watching the transformation of these overlooked inner city teens as they constructed, programmed and operated their robots was an almost spiritual experience mirroring that of handing ICMCP students a scholarship award or helping them land a great internship or entry-level job.

I would be remiss however if I did not provide the disclaimer that not all jobs in cybersecurity require four-year STEM degrees. This is a fact that cannot be overemphasized because of the prevailing stereotype of cybersecurity professionals as nerdy white males. Dispelling this misconception about our profession has to be internalized by all current female and minority cybersecurity practitioners. We do both our young people and our nation a great service by attending career day in high schools and middle-schools to ensure those impressionable minds can “See one” to know that they too can someday actually “Be one.”

Devon Bryan is the Executive Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer for the Federal Reserve System and the Co-Founder & President of the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals (ICMCP). 

The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.

Diversity, Skills Gap, Technology,
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