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The Gender Gap in Cybersecurity

Juliana Pearson, Associate Research Analyst

Women and students of color are often underrepresented in in-demand STEM fields. One of the goals of CNA’s recently launched project STEMwire is to help policymakers and practitioners ensure that all students have equal access to high-quality STEM training.

The gender gap in cybersecurity is a pressing example of inequities in STEM. Men are much more likely than women to pursue careers in cybersecurity, and recent research estimates that women make up only 10 percent of the cybersecurity workforce. This situation is especially alarming because the cybersecurity labor market is currently facing a shortfall of qualified candidates. Recent evidence also indicates that mixed-gender cybersecurity teams tend to be more effective than male-only teams.

The gender gap in cybersecurity begins long before young women choose a career. Girls are also underrepresented in high school computer science classes. Though nationwide more than half of students who take AP exams are girls, during the 2014/15 school year, only 22 percent of students who took the computer science AP exam were female. Girls also tend to be less confident in their abilities in computer science and related fields, as evidenced by a recent study conducted by Gallup and Google. The study indicated girls also tended to be less interested in the subject and were less likely to report they would study computer science in the future.

Organizations nationwide are working to engage girls in computer science fields, including cybersecurity. Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit organization focused on closing the gender gap in technology, serves more than 10,000 middle and high school girls through after-school clubs and summer immersion experiences that offer project-based learning and work experiences at leading technology companies. Another national nonprofit, ProjectCSGirls, hosts workshops throughout the country and a national computer science competition for middle school girls.

Although such organizations are an important first step toward closing the gender gap in cybersecurity, limited research is available on their effectiveness. Though CNA is not evaluating these specific initiatives, we will apply rigorous quantitative and qualitative research methodologies to evaluate and inform similar programs. Implementation evaluation tools can help program leaders understand what is working well and how programs can be improved to serve students even more effectively. Through STEMwire, CNA Education researchers will partner with policymakers, educators, and leaders of community organizations to build a stronger research base on how we can effectively help all students succeed in STEM fields.

Juliana Pearson is a CNA Education researcher who has expertise in education policy research—with an emphasis on college and career readiness, career and technical education, and workforce development—and experience in formative program evaluation data collection and analysis. She is currently earning a doctorate in education administration and policy studies from the George Washington University, and holds an M.A. in education policy from the George Washington University and a B.A. in sociology and anthropology from Earlham College.

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