Young women decide against one of the fastest-growing fields before age 16

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for cybersecurity workers will jump 53% from 2016 to 2018, but many female students don't even consider the career, according to a recent study by Kaspersky Lab.

For the study, researchers surveyed 4,001 people between ages 16 and 21 from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Israel, and the Netherlands about their awareness of and interest in a cybersecurity career.

The study found that most of the female respondents had already decided against a cybersecurity career by age 16—and nearly 80% had never even considered it. A third of the young women agreed cybersecurity professionals are "geeks," and a quarter said they're "nerds." In addition, female respondents perceived words like "hacker" to have negative connotations.

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There's a need to "change the industry's image as a whole," says Todd Helmbrecht, senior vice president of marketing at Kaspersky Lab North America. He adds that the field needs to debunk the "stereotype of IT security geeks sitting in a dark room hacking computers."

To encourage more young women to consider the career, the authors of the report recommend increasing awareness of the field, exposing students to female role models in cybersecurity, and emphasizing that it's not all about coding.

"Many individuals have the mistaken belief that cybersecurity is strictly a technical job requiring strong coding skills," says Stuart Madnick, professor of Information Technologies and founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Interdisciplinary Consortium for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity. "Cybersecurity threats often come from deficiencies in an organization’s culture and procedures," which means people skills can be just as important as technical skills for success in the field, he adds (Security Magazine, 11/13; Kaspersky Lab report, accessed 12/8).

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