By Andrew Conte
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Ambareen Siraj looks out at the 75 students in her computer security class and often sees that she’s the only woman in the room.
At most, one or two women sign up each semester for her information assurance and security course at Tennessee Tech University, but often no female does.
“It bothers me,” Siraj said. “In every other thing, we work side-by-side. Why not cybersecurity?”
Even in the male-dominated world of so-called STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — computer science and security careers stand out for having so few women. Females make up about half of the workforce and a quarter of STEM jobs, but they represent just 11 percent of cybersecurity workers.
That low percentage has remained stagnant despite growing demand for computer security workers, according to the Information System Security Certification Consortium, a Clearwater, Fla., education nonprofit.
Frustrated about her classroom enrollment, Siraj applied to the National Science Foundation for a grant to host a Women in Cybersecurity conference for 100 people last year. She kept expanding the registration limit until the fire marshal cut her off at 350 people.
This year’s event will start Friday in Atlanta. Facebook agreed to be the strategic partner with support from Google, IBM, Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon University among more than two dozen other backers. Siraj has received federal grants of $244,160 for the conferences, training and outreach programs. She set the registration limit at 500 people this year, and the event again sold out in weeks.
“Building a pipeline is so important, but what’s even more important is building a diverse pipeline,” said Jennifer Henley, Facebook’s director of security operations, who will speak at the event.
Henley said the public focuses too often on negative images of hackers and neglects to see the many professionals — men and women — working to keep online communications safe.