Published on Digital Development

Closing the gender gap for a more resilient, trusted cyberspace

A female cybersecurity professional works to keep her organization?s internal computer network safe and secure
Tapping into the talent of female professionals will ensure that cybersecurity and tech become more diverse. © Shutterstock

Cybersecurity poses a great threat to development. Cyberattacks have shut down infrastructure, extorted governments and businesses, drained people’s bank accounts, and more.   Countries around the world are making great strides to strengthen their defenses against these attacks, but one hurdle continues to stymie efforts. In 2021, there was a shortage of 3.5 million cybersecurity professionals. How can we address the scarcity of talent in this industry? One solution is right in front of us—tapping into the talent of female professionals, who thus far have been underrepresented and underutilized in the sector.

Gender disparity 

There is a strong business case for striving towards more diverse representation. Studies show companies that embrace gender diversity on executive teams are 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability. In the tech space, women leaders have proven to be more capital-efficient and, on average, achieve 35 percent higher returns on investment. This indicates that the cybersecurity sector has much to gain from increasing the number of women professionals.

However, there is marked gender disparity when it comes to jobs in cybersecurity. According to a report by (ISC)², a cybersecurity professional organization, women in this field currently account for only about one quarter (24 percent) of the overall workforce. The Middle East and Africa have the lowest representation, with women contributing to 5 percent and 9 percent of the cybersecurity workforce respectively. The gap is further widened by the difference rates of digital literacy between men and women. With the global cybersecurity sector expanding, there is ample opportunity to meet the rising demand for talent while reaping the benefits of a more representative business.  

Attracting and retaining more women to the field

Given the flexible routes through which its skill sets might be acquired, cybersecurity as a sector is uniquely positioned to bring dedicated and qualified talent on board with lower barriers for entry.  For instance, Apple, IBM, Google, Tesla, and other companies have eliminated the four-year bachelor’s degree as an application requirement for many jobs. Certification programs represent a faster and more accessible entry point into the cybersecurity workforce. According to an article in Computerworld, 76 percent of HR leaders say certifications are a factor in IT hiring, and at least 47 percent expect certifications to become even more important as a candidate evaluation tool.

The different stages of women’s professional lives must be considered to ensure access to job opportunities.  Many accomplished women who leave tech careers or make a career change will likely face obstacles when returning to work. They will likely encounter biases over gaps in their resumes, especially as technology evolves. In response, a growing number of companies are actively pursuing this pool of diverse talent by offering 12–16 week “returnship” programs, where professionals brush up on their skills after spending time away from the workforce.
A strong mentorship network is essential to retain females in an industry that has traditionally been unwelcoming. Only 25 percent of women in tech companies expressed confidence in being promoted to executive management, with many noting a lack of support and mentorship. Of those who stayed in tech careers, 75 percent pointed to the positive impact of role models in their companies despite such difficulties.

There are also encouraging signs that various stakeholders have begun targeted and sustained initiatives to ensure that cybersecurity and tech become more diverse. Both public and private entities are organizing coding camps, hackathons, skill training sessions, female mentorship programs, and campaigns to get young students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math. Public-private partnerships have the potential to break crucial ground.  

Amidst these changes, one proposition is becoming increasingly evident: for the tech sector to become more robust and continue to deliver relevant solutions to pressing cybersecurity issues, it must become as diverse as the society in which it operates.  


If you’d like to learn more about this topic, watch the replay of an event organized by the World Bank’s Digital Development team: Women and Cybersecurity: Creating A More Inclusive Cyberspace.

Digital Development at the World Bank 
Digital Development Partnership 


Christine Zhenwei Qiang

Global Director, Digital Development Global Practice

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