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10/7/2019
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Lack of Role Models, Burnout & Pay Disparity Hold Women Back

New ISACA data emphasizes a gap between men and women who share their opinions on underrepresentation of women and equal pay in the tech industry.

Female representation in technology is in a tough spot: More than half (56%) of women who participated in a new ISACA survey point to a lack of female role models as the primary reason for underrepresentation of women in tech jobs. At the same time, pay disparity, career growth, and other systemic issues keep women from staying in their jobs and moving up in the ranks.

The process of bringing more women into technology moves slowly, but it is happening. An (ISC)² study published earlier this year found women made up 24% of its cybersecurity respondents, up from 11% in 2017. Women proportionately fill more leadership roles and are higher-ranking: 11% of women report to the vice president of IT, compared with 6% of men. 

ISACA recently polled more than 3,500 IT governance, risk, assurance, and security professionals as part of its new report "Tech Workforce 2020: The Age and Gender Perception Gap." Twenty-two percent of respondents are in a cybersecurity role. Most agree women are underrepresented in tech roles around the world; however, men and women differ on why.

"The women in security who were surveyed for this project said the top barrier to women entering the tech industry is that most information technology role models and leaders are male," says Melody Balcet, director of The AES Corporation's Global Cybersecurity Program and former president of the ISACA Greater Washington, DC, chapter.

There are several potential root causes for the imbalance of men and women in technology, says Balcet. Lack of female role models is a key issue that affects the current and future workforce — or so women say. Only 34% of men surveyed think lack of female role models is problematic. Nearly one-third of men claim women find employment in the tech field "less appealing than other sectors," a statement the women "overwhelmingly" disagreed with. 

This isn't the only area with a gender disparity: 65% of men say their employers have a program to promote hiring more women; only 51% of women say the same. More than 70% of men say their employers have a program to encourage promotion of women; 59% of women agree. Nearly half of women say their employers have no program to hire more women for tech roles.

These perceptions, combined with stress, pay disparity, and other factors, makes it harder for women to build security and technology careers. Sixty-four percent of tech pros report burnout or stress in their roles due to heavy workloads (61%), long hours (50%), and lack of resources (48%). Women report this stress at a slightly higher rate of 67%, compared with men at 62%.

Who Gets the Promotion?
ISACA's data also reflected disparities when considering salary negotiation and job promotions. Overall, men reported greater confidence in their understanding of how to advance their careers. Despite this, 74% of women claim to have been offered a salary increase or promotion in the past two years, compared with 64% of their male counterparts. ISACA points out that this could be attributed to organizations' increased focus on addressing gender pay gaps.

(ISC)² found women still face an uphill battle when it comes to compensation. When asked about their salaries for the previous year, 17% of women reported earnings in the $50,000 to $99,999 range, a full 12 percentage points less than men (29%). The disparity is smaller with the next generation: Globally, younger women face a smaller pay discrepancy than older women.

Money isn't the only factor in women's career decisions. Balcet encourages businesses to create opportunities to maintain and advance skills and find ways to make projects meaningful. "Like any person, male or female, women need to see that there is a career path available to them," she says. "If a company has one laid out, but there are other systemic issues that are preventing women from advancing — for example, a lack of inclusion — then women will leave."

All this considered, women tend to stay in security roles longer than their male counterparts, Balcet says. In her experience, male colleagues have been more likely to reach out for exploratory conversations and "network with intent" to scope out potential job opportunities.

In terms of bringing more women into leadership roles, Balcet says more needs to be done to educate experts along the pipeline: Teachers, guidance counselors, career advisers, and human resources professionals can all play a role in bringing more women into technology roles. 

Job Hopping: A Next-Gen Problem
The reasons women in security are likely to change jobs are similar to the reasons of women in IT audit, risk, governance, and other roles, Balcet explains. Primary reasons include better career prospects, higher compensation, an upward career path not available at their current organization, more interesting work, and a better organizational culture.

Seventy percent of the technology workforce is considered "in-play," meaning they "may" or "definitely" anticipate changing jobs within the next two years. This is especially an issue with younger employees, ISACA found. Nearly half of respondents under 30 have changed jobs within the last two years; almost 40% think they'll change jobs or employers in the next two.

This is partly because younger workers are less likely to tolerate stress and burnout than their older counterparts. Data shows employees under 30 are more likely to leave a position if they find another job in a less-stressful environment. ISACA advises learning why employees leave and why they stay, and offer opportunities for advancement and skill training to retain tech pros.

Related Content:

Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's top story: "Rethinking Cybersecurity Hiring: Dumping Resumes & Other 'Garbage.'"

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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