Hackers’ fervor to steal company data has only intensified in recent years. Firms are scrambling to snap up the best cybersecurity professionals money can buy, but a talent crunch has limited their options. Rather than wait helplessly for the next data breach, our experts say organizations might avoid it altogether with a different tactic: hire more women.

Easier said than done. In a study conducted last year of over 11,000 global cybersecurity employees, women comprised a significantly smaller fraction than men—30% under age 30 with the number decreasing to the low teens for those over 38 years old. This is despite a reported 3.4 million open cyber jobs worldwide. Our experts say a combination of factors has led to the current gender imbalance, but it’s not too late to right the ship—and doing so could offer companies a critical life preserver. “We want every single person who is willing and interested to come into this career field—because we need you,” says Charlan Poirson, a Korn Ferry expert who provides leadership and expertise for the military senior officer division of Professional Search in North America.

Women apply to 20% fewer jobs than men, according to a LinkedIn Gender Insights Report, even when both genders show similar job browsing patterns. The silver lining for women, per the report, is that they are 16% more likely than men to get hired for a job when they do apply. Our experts suggest this is likely due to women’s need to feel supremely qualified when applying, which makes them more selective—and thus, more likely to land the position.

The downside here is that it also means women may be more reluctant to stretch beyond their comfort zones. Especially when it comes to sourcing talent internally within an organization, it’s important for leaders to nudge women to apply even if they don’t feel like the perfect fit, says Purbita Banerjee, a Senior Client Partner and Senior Vice President of Product Management of Korn Ferry Digital and Recruitment Process Outsourcing. “It’s about saying, ‘hey, you may feel like a 50% match for this job, but you should apply anyway because others with your same qualifications are.’”

When looking externally, the resume sifting period is crucial, but the AI programs that do this work often hurt more than they help. AI looks for patterns based on the data it’s been fed, but what if the data is flawed? One study out of USC found that 38.6% of their AI model’s data was biased, with women being seen more negatively by the program than men.

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The glaring issue in this case is that the dominant pattern in cyber workers has largely been male, making AI more likely to favor male applicants. Our experts determine that a degree of hands-on oversight will be needed to counter this bias. They add, however, that AI could prove useful in identifying workers in other sectors of a company who may have the required skills and learning agility to transfer over. “We can use AI to say ‘look, what are some of the other roles that contain the capabilities that we need for cyber?’” says Benjamin Frost, a Senior Client Partner in Korn Ferry's Products business.

The rise of remote work may be a factor too. According to one recent study, software engineers working in person alongside all their teammates received 23% more online feedback on their computer code than those with remote teammates. This seemed to disproportionately affect women who were more likely to ask follow-up questions when working in-house—once proximity to their colleagues was lost, they were four times more likely to quit. “It's harder to get people interested,” says Sue Ribot, a Korn Ferry Senior Client Partner and Global Cybersecurity Practice Leader in Technology and Software. “Companies who really want to hire these people will need to make it more high touch.”

Interested in onboarding more cybersecurity talent to keep your organization safe and secure? Get in touch.