Recognizing the need to increase and retain the number of people of color and women in cybersecurity professions, the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals (ICMCP) has created a community to support such individuals entering the field.
Launched in 2014, the nonprofit consortium provides mentoring and educational opportunities and scholarship programs. It has partnered with industry, corporations and education institutions such as John Hopkins University, the University of West Florida Center for Cybersecurity, and Heinz College and the Information Networking Institute – both at Carnegie Mellon University – to advance its goals of bringing underrepresented minorities into the information security field.
Explaining the premise for ICMCP, executive director David Elcock pointed to research studies and observations of cybersecurity markets that demonstrate that women and minorities are not attracted to cybersecurity professions — or retained — at the same rate as White men.
“There’s a specific amount of isolation that folks go through when they’re in these roles” when they are among very few women or underrepresented minorities in the field, Elcock added.
Outside of the hiring component of bringing underrepresented groups into cybersecurity professions, there is an added layer of a culture where minorities and women may not move up the leadership ranks as quickly as non-minority peers, even if they have the same qualifications or more experience, said ICMCP president Aric K. Perminter.
ICMCP addresses these issues by consulting with industry partners and other corporations to help them understand the value of diversity and that diversity is “not about counting numbers,” said Perminter, who also is founder and chairman of Lynx Technology Partners, an information security and risk management services company.
“It is about creating a pathway for individuals that have a direct correlation to your business performance,” he said, referencing the importance of inclusivity.
In its own outreach and support for students and professionals entering the field, ICMCP operates with four “pillars” in mind: offering scholarships, connecting volunteer mentors to others in the security community, providing professional development to entrepreneurs in cybersecurity and offering in-depth experiential learning platforms.
Many workforce leaders and advocates acknowledge that diversifying the STEM sector, particularly emerging technology fields, will require strategic partnerships between industries and minority serving institutions (MSIs) such as historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
ICMCP leaders said that to begin building this capacity, HBCU leaders must consider applying and working to become a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations (CAE) — a designation given by the National Security Agency. This could lead to more federal funding to support and expand capacity-building initiatives and programs that help train and develop MSI students’ skills sets by providing them experiential learning opportunities and knowledge of the industry’s tools and operations practices, Perminter said.
Mary N. Chaney, vice president of ICMCP, sees an opportunity for HBCUs to build cybersecurity programs and become designated CAE schools by hiring or training qualified information security faculty members and by transforming or developing curriculum to prepare students for industry needs.
“There is going to have to be some sort of university-led initiative that starts to build out that curriculum,” Chaney said. “It takes a creativity and knowledge and awareness, and then the drive to go after it to serve the communities that we’re trying to attract to those fields.”
Chaney — with more than 20 years in the profession, including serving as an Information Systems Security Officer for the FBI in Los Angeles — mentors nearly 36 young men and women. She helps them make informed decisions about navigating the profession, including how to build the confidence to negotiate a potential salary.
“It’s a team effort,” she said of mentoring and supporting underrepresented groups in cybersecurity. She tells her protégés, “If they want you, they want you. They’re not going to allow salary to get in the way of what they want.”
ICMCP’s third annual national conference is Sept. 17-19 in Atlanta, Ga.
Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.