Building a More Diverse Talent Pipeline in Cybersecurity: Insights from Booz Allen San Diego Leader Jennie Brooks

Aug 14, 2020 8:00 AM ET
Blog

Today’s employers continue to need cybersecurity professionals. In San Diego alone, there are over 8,000 jobs directly related to cybersecurity, an increase of 11% since just 2016. 

Yet not all demographics are participating in this growing career field equally. For example, women still represent a relatively small percentage of the overall cyber workforce—from 20% to 24% according to recent estimates. Building a more diverse talent pipeline “is a critical business imperative,” said Booz Allen Senior Vice President Jennie Brooks

Booz Allen is working with organizations like the San Diego Cyber Center of Excellence (CCOE) to cultivate the cyber leaders of the future. In the CCOE’s Cyber Insiders podcast, Brooks joined Teresa Macklin from California State University’s Cybersecurity Master’s Program and host Kevin Dinino to discuss the talent landscape: its current state, growth opportunities, and more inclusive ways to fill the gap.

“Opening the aperture” to more backgrounds

“There’s a prevailing attitude in cybersecurity that you can’t perform unless you’ve already done the role before,” Brooks said. “It creates this Catch-22 situation.”

Employers should recognize the strengths other backgrounds can bring to the field, she suggested, sharing the story of an art student who brought a fresh perspective to a project’s technical graphics in the San Diego office. Such an approach will increase diversity.

“Women, in particular, shy away from applying for jobs if they feel they don’t line up with the posted requirements,” Brooks said. “So, we need to challenge ourselves and open the aperture to consider candidates who bring a wider range of experiences.”

Showing relevance, building bridges 

How do you encourage students or career changers to consider a career in cybersecurity? Show its relevance to daily life, Brooks suggested, like its importance in safeguarding online shopping, contactless payments, and more, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Brooks, a more diverse cybersecurity talent pipeline will also require partnerships across academia, non-profits, and the business world. Booz Allen San Diego, for example, has worked with the Cyber Center of Excellence on a variety of initiatives, facilitated internships with local San Diego universities, and helped girls earn their cyber badges at the Girl Scouts Jr. Cyber Camp

“These are all bridges we need to build together,” she said. 

Problem-solvers needed  

Interested in a career in cybersecurity? Bring a growth mindset, Brooks advised. “One thing this industry requires is to always keep pushing your horizons and continuously educate yourself on the latest trends and developments,” she said. 

Flexibility and willingness to adapt are also important. Be open to roles you might not have initially considered, she advised. Be ready to commit to continual learning. “Cyber is a space that updates and changes daily. As soon as you get complacent, you can be left behind,” she said. 

Overall, Brooks concluded, “If you’re a problem solver, you’re going to be a great fit for space.” 

Listen to the full podcast, learn more about the San Diego Cyber Center of Excellence and cybersecurity careers at Booz Allen