Why Cybersecurity Is a Great Field for Women

by Michelle Lange | Jul 01, 2019
Headshot of Lysa Myers, who changed careers from florist to cybersecurity

Curiosity, analytical thinking, adaptability — there are dozens of soft skills nontechnical people bring to cybersecurity. While technical skills are, of course, important and cybersecurity pros need to know the tools of the trade and the latest threats, nontechnical skills also play a role in stopping hackers and securing networks.

“I think women, even men, are afraid they can’t do tech because they don’t know computer science,” said Lysa Myers, security researcher for ESET, vice chair of CompTIA's IT Security Community and a member of CompTIA’s Advancing Women in Technology Community (AWIT). “You don’t have to have those skills going in – the tech you can learn. Having empathy is going to go a long way during a stressful break in. That’s when you need the most compassion – when things are getting scary.”

Myers was a florist before she changed careers to IT security and took a job at a security company when she got tired of the ebbs and flows of seasonal work. She worked her way up from technical editing to training new malware researchers.

Coming from a nontechnical background, she relied on her innate soft skills to get ahead:

  • Attention to detail
  • Communication
  • Organization

She started learning IT security from the ground up, first editing technical documents for content and grammar, and then adding more technical skills as she started to understand the world of malware research.

“A suspected malware file would come in, and I’d look at it in a variety of ways to determine whether it was malicious or clean,” she said. 

The job of malware researcher required identifying patterns and flagging unusual activity. Soft skills like being detailed-oriented and responsive plus having baseline computer skills helped Myers pivot her career to IT security.

Communication Skills in IT

Good communicators know how to get a point across, another skill that’s essential in good IT security. The high stakes of cybersecurity require clear communication and follow through, and this is an area where women often excel.

“I’ve known women in this industry who can be very frank, especially when they’re telling people what needs to happen,” Myers said. “I worked with one client and was very straightforward, telling them ‘You guys are doing it wrong, and here’s how you’re doing it wrong.’ After I left, the client said, ‘You have to bring her back, she’s the only person who tells it like it is.’ Bluntness can sometimes be taken really well, although not everywhere.”

Being able to talk to people is another unsung skill in cybersecurity. Social engineering is often used by hackers to break into systems and steal data, so those trying to protect data employ people to hack their own systems.

“Some types of penetration testers are paid to essentially break into offices using social engineering,” Myers said. Since social engineering consists of written messaging and relationship building, this is another area where soft skills come into play.

Diversity of Experience

Nontechnical people can learn how to spot suspicious activity as easily as anyone else – you don’t need a computer science degree to recognize phishing emails.

“We all have thousands of files on our phones or our desktops,” Myers said. “Once you start looking at enough of them, you start to see the patterns of things that are clean versus things that are sketchy.”

If only one segment of the population determines a company’s cybersecurity policy, things are going to get missed. Security needs diversity overall, and companies are looking for men and women who bring collaboration skills, communication, resiliency and emotional intelligence to the industry.

“If you’re able to see the bigger picture and not get stuck in the minutia, that’s critical,” Myers said.

Diversity goes beyond gender, too. IT security needs to tap into the experience of people in different geographies, socioeconomic backgrounds and abilities.

“A lot of the differences in people’s experiences are not intuitive,” Myers said. “By having all these different kinds of people, you build a product that works for more people, and that’s what security is about – protecting people.”

Learn how you can complement your soft skills like empathy, collaboration and communication with a cybersecurity certification from CompTIA. Hear more about Myers’ experience as a security researcher and her path to cybersecurity in this episode of the AWIT TechCast.

Michelle Lange is a writer and designer living in Chicago.

27 Comments

  • Shamika

    Tuesday, July 2, 2019

    This blog was so helpful to me and made me feel less anxious. I am currently working on getting my certification in IT and hoping that someday soon I would successfully change my career to Cybersecurity.

  • Ingrid Norton

    Friday, July 5, 2019

    Great article! I've been going back and forth for the last year as to whether or not to study for a certification. I feel like I could do networking, but being a woman in a field dominated mainly by men is intimidating. :)

  • Sherry Crist

    Friday, July 5, 2019

    I've been unemployed for over 2 years and hoping to break back into the market with a CISSP

  • SueEvans

    Friday, July 5, 2019

    Loved this article, 8 weeks into a new job in Cyber Security, I am very much finding my feet with the technical side which can be frustrating when you don’t know the answers. But loving the other side of the role, especially planning staff awareness campaign, small interesting projects etc. It’s good to remind myself what I do bring to the table .. project management skills, organisation skills, eye for detail and process and all the softer skills as well. Timely reminder thank you!!

  • Jann

    Friday, July 5, 2019

    Thank you for great article. I don’t have technical background. I always have fear and nervous in IT. I love the opportunities in this field. Do you have any suggestion for nontechnical background and nonnative English speaker to learn in IT? I don’t want to give up my hunger for the job opportunity yet but sometimes it is hard to understand and I am almost 40 yrs. Thank you.

  • Jaqimarie

    Saturday, July 6, 2019

    Thank you so much for the information shared. I now have a more hopeful sense of direction. I am currently enrolled in a cybersecurity program. This podcast helped me to identify how my nontechnical experience can provide valuable soft skills to the field of IT. Thank you!!

  • Khakhu Myrtle

    Friday, July 19, 2019

    A great article indeed. ...I am an IT graduate ... I have a degree in this field. It's so hard as a female to make it...expecially in programming .. I have been been interested in cyber security for months now but don't know how to get in. Lol I used to think that you needed programming skill for it.......

  • Stephanie Anderson

    Friday, July 19, 2019

    This article was great. I have been in very technical roles in IT for about 16 years now. It is extremely dominated by men. It would be fantastic to see more women enter the industry even in a nontechnical role.

  • S. Montaque-Dwyer

    Friday, July 19, 2019

    Great article. Rich food for thought as a person in computing.

  • Alexis Tyse

    Friday, July 19, 2019

    I work for Comcast as a sales agent but have an IT background and was recently thinking about breaking into cyber security but didn't know what if I should. Reading this gave me a nudge that I'm going in the right direction!!!

  • sharon dutt

    Saturday, July 20, 2019

    this is a very boosting article to me. I am a recent graduate in Information Security from the University of Phoenix, the goal is to continue my education in Information Security with no plan to stop from there. This industry is going on it is full pace, gender differences are no space in for the room. Ladies who are looking for getting industry certifications please do not have a doubt in your abilities. It is done now or never. My aim is to get a Masters Degree in Cyber Security, I am very well aware that this will NOT be an easy road for me it will be challenging. This article is a reflection of my goal.

  • April McBroom

    Sunday, July 21, 2019

    I've been on the net for 20 years and I have to say the CyberSecurity field is the way to go. I want to be taught by the best of the best and really pursue this field on a international level. I'm looking for a jump-start into this career by first learning how Kali-Linux works. Since I already have experience in programming and networking it would greatly help both my soft-skills and my hard-skills as well.

  • Lucy

    Sunday, July 21, 2019

    This information was very helpful. I have been looking into changing careers to IT field for a while but I thought I wasn't a technical person but after reading a lot and talking to people in the field, I am now confident that that is the path I want to take.With this article I have no doubt in my mind , I can do it. I posses all the innate soft skills and I feel reading a lot of materials and understanding how to apply them is the key. Thank you for sharing. After reading this article, I feel a whole better that I have chosen the right career path.

  • Mary

    Sunday, July 21, 2019

    I am a woman that has the technical experience and have been in a cyber role for over 10 years. I do agree that cybersecurity requires a diverse array of skills, but there still needs to be a technical background. Cybersecurity is more than just polices and communication. Empathy is actually one of the worse things to have in a cyber role or even a leadership position in IT. I have seen this many times, a person has a family and may just be having a bad day so the boss does not want to think they would do something on purpose. Even if they meet all the signs of an insider threat, until it is too late. This is the same with technical abilities, if one does not know things like hardware and software requirements how are they going to be able to choose which operates best and is safest? If they do not know how to set up a honeypot, DMZ, or even deny ports in a firewall, how are they going to keep the system safe? If they have no programming experience how are they going to set the rules for testing and deployments let alone be able to look for weaknesses in the systems like SQL injections. Cyber needs the best in every position. It cannot just be a whim. There is no room for empathy. It is in black and white, following the rules, regulations, and adhering to the best practices. The weaknesses is those that do not fully understand the position who have any say in that position. I am personally offended by this article. I have had to work to be on top of my game, and to see something that says cyber is easy. Really? If it was so easy why is there no such thing as a 100% secure system online and why are there continuous cyber threats? Please do your homework and really understand the position and what is required before you decide to jump feet in. It is not a 9 to 5 job. Sometimes I work more than 12 hours a day, but it is my passion. If this is not something you are willing to commit to then it is not for you.

  • Monday, July 22, 2019

    Hi, Mary! Thanks for your comment. I don't think anyone is trying to imply that cybersecurity is easy or that you only need soft skills to succeed in cybersecurity. However, Lysa has found that soft skills like empathy, organization, communication and attention to detail supplement her technical background and ability to analyze activity and take steps to mitigate risks. Congratulations on your successful cybersecurity career!

  • DonDreha

    Friday, July 26, 2019

    This article is very cute. I say that because yes it very encouraging for those trying to get into the field and looking for a way in. Honestly the IT Field has changed a lot since I entered back in 1998 when I had my very taste of desktop support to when I starting working Helpdesk to Operations to LAN Administration to System Engineer to Network Security and then crossing over to Information Assurance and the list grows on to where now I am Technical Project Manager. In most of these areas I was either the only woman on the team or there might have been a small number of us. We had to work hard and be strong to prove we can handle our business. Having the soft-skills and empathy maybe nice, but to be truthful, not having some of the real hands-on experience on the technical side, you can really get run over by your male peers and you can also miss out on some real-world job experience. I agree we need to have more women in the field but I agree with Mary. This field does and can require a lot of hours I have worked those 12 hours aday and also worked over the weekend and traveled while doing so. I am very passionate about my field, but I had to learn how to separate my personal life from work life. Anyways, Ladies Welcome to the Field. Obtain your degrees, certifications and also get your hands dirty with some hands-on technical duties (if you can); that will really help you in the field. ;o}

  • Really

    Friday, July 26, 2019

    Please stop bringing gender into the discussion. Being born a woman has had nothing to do with my success in the IT field. Any human being who is interested in a career in IT should give it a shot. Genders got nothin to do with it. Just need a brain and a desire to fix stuff. Your ultimate goal here was to market expensive certifications to a certain demographic which may not have otherwise had any desire to enter the field. No different than sellin 'em on anything else they didn't necessarily want or need. And really, thanks to how you guys overblow the value of certifications, now all the entry level people think they need to keep a job in IT is just having certs without work ethic or even a minimal amount of tech knowledge. Quit exploiting women in IT by offering your unsolicited permission to join in on the fun. People with a sense of self will continue to pursue the work that they're interested in just like they always have before y'all started telling us it's OK to.

  • Marie

    Friday, July 26, 2019

    Another tech vet here (I've been in the field almost 25 years, when I got my Novell certifications). I'm now an IT director overseeing--what else?--a group of mostly men, though I'm working to change that. Anyway, the hard tech skills are key--not only to performing your job, but to working well with your peers. Every job I've been in, at least one guy on the team has waited for me to trip up, and the only way to gain his respect was to outperform him. I'll be honest--if you interviewed with me and emphasized your organizational and empathy skills, I'd send you to the sales department. Give me someone who has built a home network from the ground up and isn't afraid to work hard for long hours if need be. Empathy isn't going to help me when a hacker has rooted our web server. Yes, women can work in tech, but it's simply because they can learn the requirements of a job--ANY job--as well as men. Keep that in mind, and you'll succeed in this field.

  • Michelle Moore, PhD

    Friday, July 26, 2019

    Great article! I like that even though it was based off of why women would be great in cyber security, it was pointing out the overall characteristics/traits that many people (men and women) have that aren't technical. Proving cyber security is not completely technical based, there are so many facets of it. I am the Director of the Masters Cyber Security Operations & Leadership at Univ of San Diego and we get a lot of inquiring students that are making career changes and these are some of the things to be able to bring to them!

  • Friday, July 26, 2019

    Hey everyone - thanks so much for your comments. We truly appreciate the dialogue and are right there with you that you need more than just empathy and organizational skills to succeed in IT. Our message here is that these skills complement the technical skills needed and therefore can only help you in your IT career. As much as we want to leave gender out of the conversation, many people believe that IT is still a male-dominated field. We are trying to show that's not the case and that there's a place for everyone in IT. And we agree that in order to succeed in IT, you need a combination of interest/motivation, education, experience and credentials. Our take, however, is that this doesn't have to mean a college degree or years of on-the-job experience. You can get into IT in a number of different ways, and certifications offer a faster, less expensive way than a college degree. Thank you all for reading, and keep the comments coming.

  • Ridiculous

    Friday, July 26, 2019

    Thank you for implying that women are only good for "soft skills" and not "technical skills." How about you change the title to "Why Cybersecurity is a Good Field to Enter." This literally described both men and women-- especially the "tell it like it is" mindset. The REAL reasons Cybersecurity is good for women: - It is freshly tapped industry in which women are on a level playing field with men from the start - It holds the smallest pay gap compared to all other industries OR we could just leave gender out of it. IT Security needs people who are security-minded; regardless of gender or socio/economic background.

  • Wow

    Friday, July 26, 2019

    This is super sexist. There are lots of women who are technical. Being in IT, or specifically Cyber Security, does require technical aptitude. Your article implies that women only possess "soft skills" that aren't technical. How do I know this? I am a woman and a system engineer. This article is incredibly offensive.

  • Kris Cain

    Friday, July 26, 2019

    I'm adding my "thanks" to the long list because Without your testimony, many women reading this are intimidated in their attempt to pursue a new field such a cyber security. Thanks again.

  • ANTONIETA BUSSE

    Saturday, July 27, 2019

    I totally agree with Mary above. Empathy and soft skills are good when dealing with customers in the front line of customer services. Cyber security is above that line and you need to be bad ass to handle hackers and many network security issues. I think this article is talking about tier 1 tech support and customer services skills.

  • Manila

    Saturday, July 27, 2019

    So why does this article supposed to make me feel? That women are bad at tech and match therefore we have to rely on soft skills? This is not helpful at all. I’m working in tech and some knowledge is a must for a lot of roles, empathy and soft skills will put you in a customer service role, but bad for IT.

  • Ok Then

    Monday, July 29, 2019

    This is a sexist article. Cybersecurity is good for women because they have soft skills? Really? How about women have every right to be in cybersecurity and they don't have to be been seen as soft or a great communicator to be a great analyst. Men get away with failing to attempt even the most basic soft skill apparently, so women get to pick up that slack? No. Women are not in the workplace to be your mother. No one blinks an eye when a man from a nontechnical background enters IT, but wow a FLORIST dared enter IT and was good at it because she could open Word and talk to people? She succeeded because she could do the job. Not because she was detail oriented. Who okayed this article? Why did you even think to write this in the first place? You could have talked all day about how people from all backgrounds find success in IT and Cybersecurity because of their soft skills and left this whole gender stuff out of it. It is hard enough dealing with people who think women aren't smart enough to be in this field. If anything, women have to be tougher. Shame on you, shame on CompTIA, shame on whoever greenlit this article. To all the women in the comments feeling relief that you'll succeed because you are nice, let me tell you, you are going to succeed because you have a passion for the field. You are no ones mother. You don't have to coddle people. Go out there and kick butt and stop thinking you don't belong in a certain field. You do.

  • SMH

    Sunday, August 25, 2019

    A lot of the women who are already working in Cybersecurity sound bitter about this. I think y'all decided to take it the wrong way. Instead of being mad at the person who wrote this get mad at the men who made y'all feel this way. Get mad at yourselves for allowing them to make you feel this way. She didn't say you didn't need tech skills, she didn't say women can't have tech skills she said don't get scared if you are still learning that side of it.

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