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Women in cybersecurity work to grow voice in US lawmaking

To encourage more input from women in cybersecurity in the legislative process, the Executive Women's Forum went to Washington to discuss key issues with Congress.

Three topics that are top of mind in the national conversation intersected last week when the Executive Women's Forum met with members of Congress and their staffs to discuss cybersecurity legislation, increasing the number of women in cybersecurity and training women veterans to enter the cybersecurity field.

The goal of the Third Annual EWF Cybersecurity Women on Capitol Hill Public/Private Symposium was twofold: to educate members of Congress and their staffers about cybersecurity, privacy and risk issues and to increase women's participation in the legislative process by providing  advice and expert testimony as cybersecurity law evolves.

"I've spent hours on Capitol Hill asking staffers where they go for advice, and they go to the people they know. Typically, that person isn't someone who is underrepresented," said EWF founder Joyce Brocaglia, who is also CEO of Alta Associates, an executive search firm that has been placing cybersecurity professionals since 1992. "The EWF feels strongly that we can improve cybersecurity legislation through a more inclusive lawmaking process," she added.

To help build legislation that addresses diverse points of view, more than 100 women from the 7,000-member EWF traveled to Washington, D.C. EWF members had more than 30 Congressional meetings with Armed Services, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs staffers in the House and Senate and discussed their inclusion as women in cybersecurity subject matter experts (SMEs) encompassing cybersecurity, privacy and risk issues.

The EWF's endgame is to have an impact on creating better legislation by encouraging Congress to engage with EWF members, Brocaglia said. "What these women have to offer is very relevant, timely and road-tested advice, which means laws can be better and more inclusive in terms of how they are designed."

Women in cybersecurity, by the numbers

Joyce BrocagliaJoyce Brocaglia

EWF members want to become more familiar faces in the halls of Congress, and the data backs up the need for their efforts, Brocaglia said. In late 2018, Forrester Research projected the number of women CISOs in Fortune 500 companies growing to 20% by the end of 2020, up from 13% in 2017 as the security industry copes with a shortage of security professionals. Yet, even as the number of women in cybersecurity holding senior roles in enterprises has increased, it's not enough, she added.

The projected growth rate in women CISOs mirrors the percentage of women testifying before Congress on cybersecurity issues over the past eight years, Brocaglia said. Last year, the Congressional Research Service, a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress, told Brocaglia only about 20% of cybersecurity hearings on Capitol Hill heard testimony from women in the 112th through the 115th Congresses (2011 through 2018). Of the 979 people who testified before Congressional committees on cybersecurity issues, 206 were women.

"That's more than I expected. Still, with only 21% of women testifying, clearly, women SMEs are being underutilized," Brocaglia said. That's one reason why the EWF held more than 30 meetings to provide members of Congress and some subcommittees an opportunity to meet women who are experts in privacy, security and risk.

Cybersecurity law is in its infancy, and I want to help to engage women so these laws aren't inherently biased.
Joyce BrocagliaFounder, Executive Women's Forum & CEO, Alta Associates

The EWF's most recent effort is the latest in an initiative it launched two years ago to educate Capitol Hill staffers and members of Congress about the group's resources and its ability to provide testimony and advice about cybersecurity issues, Brocaglia said.

"We feel strongly that, as we enter the fourth industrial revolution, legislation is going to need to address the effects of emerging technologies, as well as threats and vulnerabilities from within the U.S., as well as nation-states," Brocaglia said.

"Cybersecurity law is in its infancy, and I want to help to engage women so these laws aren't inherently biased," Brocaglia said.

Brocaglia said congressional staffs have been incredibly open to working with the EWF.

"We've opened their eyes to an entire community of resources they didn't know existed," she said. To that end, EWF members are working with a number of members of Congress to discuss such topics as the security work force gap, training women veterans to enter security and diversity in cybersecurity.

This was last published in May 2019

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