Why your cybersecurity team should be as diverse as its challenges

SAN FRANCISCO — Diverse cybersecurity teams are not just about feeling good or making a positive impression to the outside world. Rather, the business imperative is that a more inclusive infosec shop will be stronger, make better decisions and become well suited to endure the ongoing talent shortage.

Cybersecurity and IT, in fact, are amid talent shortages that are only going to get worse. Ann Johnson, corporate vice president of cybersecurity solutions at Microsoft, shared some statistics onstage here at RSA 2019.

Particular to information security across all industry sectors there will be a shortfall of talent resulting in more than 3 million open jobs, while 70 percent of IT employers are facing either a moderate or extreme shortage of technology professionals.

What’s more, work stress is causing 66 percent of surveyed employees to look for a new job with 51 percent even willing to take one at a lower salary than they currently earn.

“We must look for new avenues to recruit talent into the industry,” Johnson said. “We need to hire more women and diverse talent, not just because it’s the right thing to do. Our teams must be as diverse as the problems we are trying to solve.”

Johnson and other executives here were careful to point out that diversity goes beyond gender and race and, instead, extends into the realm of ideas and new ways of thinking.

“If you look at diversity as gender, we have a long way to go,” said Jayshree Ullal, CEO of Arista Networks. “If you look at diversity of different thoughts, I think Silicon Valley has done a lot.”

These include technological advancements, of course, but also news ways of doing things.

“We need a nice mix of competent people, men and women,” Ullal added.

Another statistic Microsoft’s Johnson showed onstage: Diverse teams make better decisions 87 percent of the time.

Johnson highlighted the cyber inclusivity program BlackHoodie, which bills itself as a reverse engineering workshop, as one place to start. And Ullal explained that it starts in the schools by engaging more diverse types of people to get them into science and math — before they enter one’s corporate culture.

While Ullal described Arista as “a living example of diversity,” because she and CFO Ita Brennan are both women, her co-presenter, Palo Alto Networks CEO Nikesh Arora, said that his company just revamped its values to focus on diversity and inclusion.

Fostering diversity and inclusion naturally points to the need to also cultivate those people as leaders.

“The culture is the one thing you bond and scale, not just about how you build great people but how you build great leaders,” Ullal said. “The foundation is fundamental to leadership.”  

And there are very real consequences at stake.

“Cybercriminals will continue to exploit the bias, we will continue to engender group think and become weaker to our adversaries,” Johnson said. “We can grow a community that takes care of each other — and that will catapult our cybersecurity posture.”

Twitter: @SullyHIT
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