Wendi Whitmore, SVP of Unit 42 speaks at  Palo Alto Ignite

Dec 16 2022

How Women Can Help Solve the Cyber Staffing Shortage

Experts say that IT leaders can find success by investing in female staff and growing diverse teams.

Women hold only 25 percent of global cybersecurity jobs, according to a 2022 study conducted by Cybersecurity Ventures. This number has more than doubled since 2013 and is expected to reach 30 percent by 2025 and 35 percent by 2031. The growth is encouraging, but there is still a severe talent shortage, with “millions of unfilled cybersecurity jobs placing our networks, data and infrastructure at risk,” according to the study.

Wendi Whitmore, senior vice president at Palo Alto’s Unit 42, and Lindsay Preucil, assistant vice president of cyber at AT&T, a large talent pool is being overlooked. “Women are essential to fixing this problem. There’s enormous untapped potential here,” Whitmore said. Whitmore spoke at Palo Alto Ignite ’22, hosted by Palo Alto Networks on Dec. 13.

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Recruiting for Diverse Leadership Roles

Getting more women into the workforce starts with changing the cultural conversation, breaking down barriers to entry and promoting inclusive work environments. Whitmore mentioned that the pandemic made flexible work schedules acceptable, making it easier for working women to stay in the field.

For new hires, it’s an ideal moment to join, because “the industry is having a widespread training moment as they rethink cyber architecture from the ground up,” said Preucil. Luckily, expanding cybersecurity budgets make it more feasible to hire now. And actively hiring is the only way to address the more than 3.5 million cybersecurity roles that could remain unfilled between now and 2025, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.

The second part of closing the gender gap is about recruitment and raising awareness. “Women need to learn more about cybersecurity to realize they are qualified to work in it,” Preucil said. Whitmore got more personal: “If you are a woman in this space, you have the chance to speak up and own your power,” she said.

Wendi Whitmore photo
The goal is to out-innovate our attackers, and that’s why diverse thought is essential to business transformation.”

Wendi Whitmore Senior Vice President, Unit 42

Why Diverse Teams Can Be More Successful

Closing the gender gap is also about developing diverse teams. “Leaders and hiring managers need to be thinking about cultivating a diverse cross-section of intelligent people,” Whitmore said. Often, analyzing a cyberattack requires evaluating it from different angles.

“The goal is to out-innovate our attackers, and that’s why diverse thought is essential to business transformation,” she said. In Preucil’s experience, the “best performing teams in the market are diverse.” To set up their teams for success, IT leaders should hire from a variety of different backgrounds. Next, identify where employees’ skills lie and apply them to the needs of the business. “Every team is a puzzle, and leaders need to fit those pieces together,” Whitmore said.

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Women in Cybersecurity Session - Photo

"Women in Cybersecurity" session moderated by Jas Sood. 

Why Business Leaders Need to Think About ‘Relationship Equity’ 

Preucil raised the concept of “relationship equity,” which is important for business leaders to keep in mind. It refers to treating everyone equitably regardless of race or gender and also extends to communication, networking and investing in the workplace community. The speakers cited recent research conducted by the cyber training and certification nonprofit (ISC)² that shows relationship equity results in promotions, stronger sales and longer customer retention.

“You can leverage all the analytics in the world, but you still need ambitious, curious thought leaders who will tackle these problems together,” Whitmore said.

When asked how they would characterize the work of cybersecurity leaders today, Preucil and Whitmore said it was about keeping networks and businesses safe. “Every day, IT leaders are investing in stronger security, but we also need to invest in our people,” Whitmore said.

Keep this page bookmarked for articles from the event, and follow us on Twitter at @BizTechMagazine and the official conference Twitter feed, @PALiveCommunity.

Photos courtesy of Palo Alto Networks

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