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There is a serious problem with diversity facing the cybersecurity field. While all minorities struggle to find a foothold in the world of cybersecurity, the dearth of African Americans is one of the most egregious with a mere 3% of the field being comprised of African Americans. This is an unacceptable figure in 2019, when there are more than enough qualified African Americans willing and able to fill the ever-expanding positions that the cybersecurity field generates.

While the lack of representation of African Americans in cybersecurity isn’t something to be explored on moral grounds, it is important that the exact methods of why underrepresentation continues to plague the cybersecurity field be understood. Qualified individuals of any background, creed, gender or race should get a fair shake when it comes to the hiring process, and unfortunately, that just doesn’t seem to be happening in the cybersecurity field.

Racism Is Still An Issue

Security analyst jobs are expected to grow by 18% through 2024, providing the gatekeepers of the cybersecurity industry ample time to rectify the 3% figure regarding how many African Americans the field employs. In fact, according to Forbes, the Obama administration implemented several measures intended to ensure that young African Americans had better access to cybersecurity education earlier in their lives, but it doesn’t seem to be having the intended impact.

First, Vice President Joe Biden announcing in 2015 that $25 million in funding towards cybersecurity education was being made available to historically African American colleges and universities. Then President Barack Obama increased the 2017 budget to $19 billion dollars, a 35 percent increase over the previous year, and announced the implementation of the Computer Science For All Initiative. Despite the measures taken to increase opportunities for African American and other underserved groups to join the cybersecurity field, there has yet to be an equivalent rise in diversity that these actions should have spurred.

One unfortunate answer to this lack of action is that racism still plays a factor, whether explicit or systemic, overt, or casual. Racism is still a major problem facing the African American community in many aspects of their lives. African American men find themselves stopped by police twice as often as white men, and are three times as likely to be searched by the police during a stop.

African Americans are also more likely to receive prison time than Caucasians for the same crime, and are less likely to be paroled for non-violent offenses. The charges that result from these run-ins with the legal system, no matter how innocuous, affect their ability to apply for high-paying white collar jobs like those in the cybersecurity field.

This barrier to entry into the cybersecurity field and other well-paying jobs in general has lasting detrimental impacts. According to Bradley University’s nursing program, racially discriminatory hiring practices can prevent African Americans from obtaining high-paying jobs with medical benefits, which can result in higher mortality rates from a whole host of treatable illnesses. While this isn’t a problem exclusive to the cybersecurity field, the sheer lack of diversity when it comes to the inclusion of African Americans goes to show just how ingrained this issue is within the industry, and how necessary it is that the problem be addressed.

Qualified Yet Overlooked

Even while the tech sector at large is experiencing virtually no unemployment, there is a critical shortage of skilled IT security personnel that could be rectified with the immense amount of qualified African Americans who have extensively trained and studied to work in the cybersecurity field.

One possible reason that African Americans are still seeing underrepresentation in the cybersecurity field is that they are also underrepresented in leadership positions within the field. Even when African Americans do find themselves in leadership positions, they will have often had to work harder to get there. An impressive 62% of minorities in leadership positions hold a master’s degree or higher, while only 50% of those in leadership that self-identified as Caucasian hold the same level of degree.

While there are already plenty of qualified African Americans for positions in the cybersecurity field, the importance of inspiring future generations to enter STEM fields should not be underestimated. The demand for cybersecurity professionals and other jobs in the STEM field is only expected to grow in the coming years, and ensuring that there are plenty of African American youths willing to go through the necessary education and training to fill those positions is one way to work towards proper representation.

Though there is a serious dearth of African Americans in the cybersecurity field today, that will not always be the case. By giving future generations of African Americans the educational tools they need to succeed in the cybersecurity field, underrepresentation will eventually fade away.

Diversity Is Good For The Field

This lack of representation for African Americans in the cybersecurity field doesn’t just hurt the African Americans who aren’t given the chance to work within the field, but also harms the cybersecurity industry itself. Diversity has been shown to be incredibly beneficial to any business as it provides multiple unique problem-solving approaches while diversity in thought and creation will offer enhanced competition and innovation. Historically underrepresented groups like women and African Americans have an immense amount to offer the cybersecurity field and their exclusion is only hurting the industry.

Many cybersecurity firms have shown that they understand that diversity is beneficial for business as women now make up 24% of the cybersecurity workforce. Not only have women become a large part of the cybersecurity field, they are also steadily entering into more leadership positions and experiencing less pay inequity than previous generations of women.

The willingness for the cybersecurity field to address the gender gap that has plagued the industry for decades is a good sign for African Americans and other underrepresented groups, because if the gender gap can be appropriately addressed, so too can the racial gap.

In the future, it will be more than likely that the cybersecurity field, as well as many other STEM-based fields, will have plenty of representation for African Americans as well as other currently underrepresented groups in America today. However, until that happens, it is important that the current lack of representation be not only acknowledged but highlighted at every opportunity in order to hurry the process along.

Underrepresentation is an unfortunate issue in the world of cybersecurity. Qualified African Americans are consistently passed over for promotions and overlooked as potential candidates within the field, often due to racism in hiring practices. However, the industry has proven before that it can change, and with enough young African Americans becoming interested in cybersecurity employment, the change will hopefully come soon.