As Cybersecurity Field Heats Up, HBCU Partnership Addresses Workforce Diversity

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Demand for cybersecurity workers is growing faster than ever, yet experts say the industry lacks the job candidates and workforce diversity necessary to advance the field’s capacity and creativity.

Diversity is not this industry’s strong suit. Just 9 percent of cybersecurity workers are Black, 4 percent are Hispanic, and 24 percent are women, according to the 2021 study “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Cybersecurity,” conducted by Aspen Digital. 

To address the shortage of Black employees specifically, and to increase the field’s overall labor pool, this fall the National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCA) launched See Yourself in Cyber, a career program for students that involves a partnership between cybersecurity organizations and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). NCA is a nonprofit organization advocating for the safe use of technology and best protections from cybercrime.

The need for more workers is tremendous, according to a study by Cyberseek, a collaboration between industry professionals, including NCA. While 715,000 unfilled positions were reported in the 12-month period ending in April 2022, nearly 40 percent of those jobs were posted during the last four months — and existing cybersecurity workers can fill just 66 percent of those jobs. In addition, the study indicates cybersecurity jobs have increased at more than twice the rate of other industries in today’s job market.

The Aspen Digital report recommends enhanced recruitment and hiring, which the See Yourself in Cyber program is designed to address. Partner HBCUs and sponsors collaborate on career projects, including in-person events at participating universities with featured industry speakers and panel discussions hosted on campuses. These events enable students to network with experts in the field, including government representatives, HBCU graduates, and corporate recruiters.

Along with campus-wide events, the program offers mentorship opportunities in which students are paired with industry professionals. Through these relationships, they gain valuable skills and insights such as how to interview and build a resume and what to expect in their first job.

Students also learn about various career tracks within the cybersecurity field including networking, software development, systems engineering, financial and risk analysis, security intelligence, and IT support. Such pathways can lead to advanced-level jobs such as cybersecurity manager, engineer, and architect.

Organizations and companies involved in the program include the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Dell Technologies, Proofpoint, Quanta Services, and Trellix. 

HBCUs include Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU), Southern University, St. Philip’s College, and Texas Southern University.

Camille Gibson, PhD, dean of the College of Juvenile Justice at PVAMU, says the university became involved to provide the knowledge and credentials its students need to excel in this field.

Diversity and cybersecurity go hand in hand, she says, because increased diversity in the field is a step toward more creative solutions and greater security for the general public.

“Being exposed to diversity in the cybersecurity field and hearing what is possible for different majors should lead to more diversity of persons and thought in cybersecurity,” she says. “We know that when this happens to any area, organizations will begin to think outside of the box about issues, risks, and innovation.”

Nikki Brahm is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.

This article was published in our November 2022 issue.