Uncovering cyber’s Hidden Figures [Commentary]

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(Photo Credit: Universal Pictures)

The movie “Hidden Figures” recently earned three Oscar nods, including Best Picture, for its depiction of three black female mathematicians and their work at NASA. The film is the true story about how these intelligent and brave women overcame racial and gender discrimination to help launch man into space.

More than five decades later, diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM for short, is still an issue, and the gender gap is very apparent in the cybersecurity field.  While we’re making progress, we still have a long way to go. In 2015, women made up just 10 percent of the world’s information security workforce. That number is down from 11 percent in 2013. As industry leaders, we need to understand the causal factors and work to reverse this trend.

Current estimates set the cyber talent shortfall at one million professionals. Stop and think about that for just a minute. That number — one million — is higher than the projected shortfall for doctors, nurses and teachers combined. I don’t know of a starker or more glaring statistic or indicator of the importance of investing in the future generation of cyber professionals.

Accordingly, Raytheon and the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, a nonprofit charitable trust of (ISC)², will offer six new scholarships this year to encourage women to pursue cybersecurity degrees. The initiative aims to foster more women cybersecurity experts in an exciting field where there is a demand signal for new talent and boundless opportunities to nurture life-long career.

Four years ago, Raytheon began its partnership with (ISC)² to offer young women an opportunity to advance their careers in cybersecurity by providing two $10,000 scholarships and a paid internship at Raytheon. This year, three scholarships will be awarded to women entering college and three to mid-career professionals seeking to expand their skill sets or change career fields. Selected scholarship recipients may receive a paid summer internship at Raytheon. Additional (ISC)² benefits include a voucher for the recipients’ certification exam of their choice and a fully paid, first-year (ISC)² membership after passing the exam.

Eliminating the growing deficit in our cyber workforce requires that we all, no matter what industry we’re in, focus on raising cyber awareness among our youngest generations regardless of gender. If we can create a clear path to cyber careers for women, we can help eliminate the serious talent shortage, gain strength through diversity and make our country and the world more secure.

The extraordinary women portrayed in “Hidden Figures” were vital to success of the early space missions and went on to make an impact throughout their careers. We must create the path in cyber now for extraordinary women to help change the future.

For more information about the Raytheon Women’s Cybersecurity Scholarship, including eligibility requirements, visit IAmCyberSafe.org.

Dave Wajsgras president of Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services.