ICMCP Strives to Expose Underrepresented Youth to Cybersecurity Careers

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The field of cybersecurity is expected to have as many as 1.8 million unfilled jobs worldwide by 2022, according to the Center for Cyber Safety and Education. The shortage of workers able to fill these positions is exacerbated by the fact that the professional pipeline for such careers is overwhelmingly homogeneous. In the U.S., women make up just 21 percent of the information security workforce, while African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics combined comprise less than one-third, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Devon Bryan, executive vice president and chief information security officer for the Federal Reserve System, wants to remedy cybersecurity’s diversity problem. Thus, in 2014, Bryan and three of his colleagues formed the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals (ICMCP) to advance opportunities for women and people of color in the profession.

“With cybersecurity being one of the nation’s key strategic priorities — and with the escalation of cyber incidents impacting various sectors — we network defenders need all the help we can get,” says Bryan. “There’s no reason why women and people of color should have the low levels of representation that they do when there are so many opportunities in this industry and such a need for skilled practitioners.”

Now in its second year, ICMCP has a thriving mentorship program that connects underrepresented cybersecurity students with industry leaders, as well as a scholarship program that has distributed more than $150,000 to minority and female students. The organization is run entirely by volunteers and operates solely on donations from individuals and partner organizations. Although ICMCP doesn’t charge dues, it does ask members to participate in career days at local schools and in other activities that raise awareness of the cybersecurity profession.

“There are a number of misperceptions about the kind of people who [work in] cybersecurity,” Bryan says. “With our members being women and people of color, they change the perceptions for elementary, middle, and high school students of what cyber professionals look like and do.”

Aric Perminter, founder of Lynx Technology Partners and president of ICMCP, believes that providing opportunities for students to engage firsthand in cybersecurity activities is key to expanding and diversifying the field. With this belief in mind, ICMCP is developing a program to help colleges and universities establish educational security operations centers (ESOCs), which, with the help of government and private sponsors, will provide students with access to real-world technology and training.

ESOCs help increase awareness — on campuses and in communities — of the exciting opportunities available in cybersecurity for young people, Perminter says. This is one reason why one of ICMCP’s partner institutions intends to build its center directly across the street from a neighboring high school. “They want the high school students to be able to come over and be exposed to what the college students are learning through the ESOC experience,” explains Perminter. “That is what is going to really begin to address the larger issue related to the skills gap in cybersecurity; we need to be introducing people to cybersecurity at a much earlier [age].”

While ICMCP has big plans for its ESOC initiative, the organization’s other projects include developing a veterans’ outreach program and expanding professional development opportunities for ICMCP members. This year, for the first time, the organization was able to provide 20 members funding to attend Black Hat USA, the country’s largest cybersecurity conference; 15 of these attendees were underrepresented college students, according to Perminter.

“This is an opportunity for those individuals who may or may not be certified professionals to be immersed in the cybersecurity community,” he says.  “That is our main goal, to provide opportunities that have an impact on the lives of our members in order to ultimately bridge the great minority cybersecurity divide.”●

Mariah Bohanon is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. For more information about ICMCP, visit icmcp.org