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Cybersecurity and Equality: Are Minorities Allowed to Play?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Andrew Vaz
April 21, 2017

I remember going to college (I was completing my masters at the time) and attending a job placement seminar. It had major employers from private, public and nonprofit sectors looking for applicants and teaching resume building strategies. Attendees met with representatives and found jobs. Well, most the jobs hiring at that time were for sales positions. Nonetheless, the Federal government had representation from the Department of State and Homeland Security (DHS). I was eager to find employment in the State Department; my dream career, going overseas and working as a diplomat. However, as a student at Florida International University’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program, I enrolled in a course that dealt with information technology and e-governance. It is where I got to research and learn more about how governments protect crucial data and its infrastructure from threats. Cybersecurity became a new career path I wanted to pursue. I already completed information technology courses in my undergraduate years and obtained recognition from my high school for achieved 99 percent course percentage grade in computer and information science. When I spoke to representatives about pursuing a career in cybersecurity, they gave me an optimistic outlook at the amount of jobs that would be available in the coming decades and encouraged me to apply for open positions on USAJobs. I wanted to learn more about the degree of diversity within these types of jobs; as I am a visible minority, I feel it is important to see representation within this field of practice. Upon my research, I discovered many alarming statistics about this rising career field that may require all of us to pay more attention to.

I don’t believe employers go out of their way to not hire visible minorities to cybersecurity positions. However, data suggests there is a lack of diversity in cybersecurity employment. According to data from the United States Department of Labor which publishes the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), ‘Black or African-American’ workers make up only 3 percent of the information security analysts in the U.S.” Now, that is not impressive; considering that this career field is expanding with more jobs every year. According to BLS, the 2014 median pay for information security analysts was $88,890 per year. An information security analyst position usually requires a four year college degree and there’s lots of upward mobility from there.

Thus, we need to do more to hire visible minorities to cybersecurity positions. Failing to diversify the cybersecurity industry is detrimental for companies and government agencies, which face increasing risks and threats as computer intelligence evolves. The future of the cybersecurity field is contingent on how we address this problem.

With the issue of equality, the first step in fighting discrimination is acknowledging its existence and addressing it with everyone. That’s how one changes culture; cybersecurity culture maybe largely ethnically non-homogeneous. It is imperative that the issue of gender and racial inequality in IT is acknowledged. It is also crucial that employers are mindful of recruitment biases and take actionable measures to ensure their hiring processes do not discriminate against minorities.

Recruitment biases exist in hiring and the only to eliminate them is by identifying them and employing proper hiring practices.itminorities

This leads to education — specifically, creating more educational opportunities for people. Women should be encouraged to pursue careers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. For women, it is challenging within the cybersecurity industry to find work. The 2015 population survey conducted by the United States Department of Labor revealed that only 19.7 percent of information security analyst jobs are held by women and, combined, Black/African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanic/Latinos make up less than 12 percent of these positions. Even for women and minorities who work in IT-related roles, most are not being paid fairly.

It is a worthwhile investment to expose young students to technology. I remember beginning to use the school computer from as far back as elementary school, and each time I look forward to understanding the mechanisms of the device on my own. I believe that’s how I became proficient at information technology and cyberspace. Former President Barack Obama wanted to invest money in the development of STEM programs to attract minorities to this field and companies should be at the head of this initiative.

Without addressing the consistent threats that are out there against our nation, this column wanted to highlight the importance of cybersecurity employment and why our leaders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors should seek out talented and diverse individuals ready to leave their mark on cyberspace.

Author: Andrew R Vaz, M.Sc., M.P.A. is a doctoral student in public policy and administration program at Walden University. He is a graduate of the Master of Science in Criminal Justice and Master of Public Administration double master’s program at Florida International University. He can be reached at [email protected]

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