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Women are ascending into senior or leadership positions in cybersecurity within their companies, through a variety of pathways, according to the first-ever SANS Women in Cybersecurity Survey, results of which will be presented by SANS Institute in two webcasts on March 17 and March 24. The survey targeted women working in cybersecurity who are in a senior or leadership position.

According to the most recent (2018) World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report, we are currently in the middle of a period of accelerating demand for specialist roles related to understanding and leveraging the latest emerging technologies. An information security analyst is one of these roles, so we need increasing numbers of women to meet the demand. In addition, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found that US companies will add 546,200 new jobs in computer and information technology between 2018 and 2028, a rate higher than the average for all occupations.

Of those jobs, the bureau predicts a 32% growth rate for information security analysts. The picture is likely to be similar in other countries. “Women can have a tremendous amount of impact in their organisations regardless of their title,” says SANS analyst and survey author Heather Mahalik. “Your title and time in the field do not define what you know and the impact you can provide to this community. They do not define your impact or even narrow in on your capabilities—your actions do.”

In fact, 41% of respondents credited being in the right place at the right time for their rise into senior or leadership positions. That means they had to make themselves visible to decision-makers. Others credited having varied experiences (38%) or pursuing certifications (34%) with their rise into senior or leadership positions, both of which are within the control of the individual.

Mentorships are often part of the process of growing into leadership positions and continuing to grow once taking on such a role. However, only 7% of women in cybersecurity have been mentored by another woman, with 37% mentored by both men and women and 31% by men alone, which leaves 25% who have never benefited from being mentored at all.

“The future of cybersecurity is the responsibility of everyone,” continues Mahalik. “We need to reach out and become a mentor.” Most survey respondents have done just that, with just a quarter not participating in a mentorship relationship. Interestingly, the vast majority (57%) report mentoring both men and women, a positive sign for growing the leadership role of women in cybersecurity.

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