Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are essential aspects of any industry, but they are especially important in the field of cybersecurity.In this guide
DEI is a term used to describe the promotion of equal access and opportunities for all individuals regardless of race, gender, age, or other factors. It also includes efforts to ensure that everyone has an equal voice in decision-making processes and that all people have access to the same resources and opportunities.
The scarcity of diversity in the information security industry is a well-recognized issue. Despite women constituting over half of the United States population, they are only a mere 14 percent of the information security workforce, according to a Forbes article. (Find more info in the related Women in Cybersecurity Guide).
Along with gender disparity, African Americans comprise only three percent of infosec analysts in the US, highlighting an evident lack of inclusivity in the industry. The implication is that industry leaders must do more to promote women’s participation in the field.
Many believe the lack of diversity is not due to a shortage of available talent but the industry’s inability to tap into a more diverse talent pool. This failure to tap into the talent pool of capable individuals could negatively impact the security of the digital ecosystem, especially with the ever-increasing frequency and sophistication of cyber-attacks.
These disparities can lead to a lack of innovation within the industry as well as difficulty in finding qualified candidates for positions. Therefore, there has never been a more crucial time for organizations to focus on increasing diversity and inclusivity in the cybersecurity sector.
CEDI’s efforts to improve cybersecurity education
Organizations have developed various initiatives and programs to address these issues and promote diversity within the field of cybersecurity. One such initiative is the Cybersecurity Education Diversity Initiative (CEDI), created by the Center for Academic Excellence (CAE). This initiative works with Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to increase their capacity for offering quality cybersecurity education programs. CEDI provides support through curriculum development assistance, faculty training, and mentorship programs.
MSIs are higher education institutions that primarily serve minority populations, such as historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions (AANAPISIs). These institutions were created to address the lack of access to higher education opportunities for minority populations in the United States.
HBCUs were founded in the mid-1800s to provide education for Black Americans who were excluded from predominantly white institutions. Today, 102 HBCUs in the U.S. enroll more than 292,000 students. HSIs were established in the 1980s to serve Hispanic students, and there are currently 523 HSIs that serve over 3.8 million students. TCUs were created to provide educational opportunities for Native American students, and currently, 35 TCUs serve over 20,000 students. AANAPISIs were designated in 2008 to support the educational needs of Asian American and Pacific Islander students, and there are currently 50 AANAPISIs serving over 200,000 students.
In a recent interview with Cybersecurity Guide, Dr. Thaier Hayajneh, CAE-CEDI Co-Chair, discussed the work being done by CEDI to support MSIs in delivering quality cybersecurity education. Dr. Hayajneh is the founder and director of the Fordham Center for Cybersecurity, a University Professor of Computer Science, and the director of cybersecurity programs at Fordham University.
In the interview, Dr. Hayajneh highlighted the challenges faced by MSIs in delivering cybersecurity education. He pointed out that MSIs often need more resources and funding to build and maintain cybersecurity programs. Additionally, MSIs need help hiring qualified cybersecurity faculty due to competition from larger universities and industries.
One of the most significant challenges faced by MSIs in delivering cybersecurity education, according to Dr. Hayajneh, is the lack of hands-on experience provided to students. Many cybersecurity programs at MSIs focus on theoretical knowledge, leaving students needing more practical skills for employment in the field. This lack of hands-on experience can negatively impact the employability of students graduating from MSIs.
Other cybersecurity professionals and educators have also expressed concerns about the challenges faced by MSIs in delivering quality cybersecurity education. In October 2021, Lauren Zabierek, Executive Director—Cyber Project, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Algirde Pipikaite, Lead—Strategic Initiatives, World Economic Forum, wrote about the challenges of recruiting qualified cybersecurity faculty and emphasized there is a real need for a more diverse set of voices in the cybersecurity conversation.
Despite these challenges, CEDI is working to improve the quality of cybersecurity education at MSIs. Through partnerships with industry leaders, CEDI supports MSIs in building and maintaining cybersecurity programs.
CEDI’s work is essential for promoting diversity in the cybersecurity workforce and addressing the growing need for cybersecurity professionals. The demand for cybersecurity professionals is booming, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 35 percent increase in employment in the field from 2021 to 2031. However, the number of cybersecurity professionals from underrepresented groups remains low.
The mission of MSIs is to increase access to higher education for minority students and to provide them with culturally relevant and inclusive educational experiences that lead to positive outcomes. MSIs are known for offering personalized attention, supportive environments, and strong academic programs. They provide opportunities for students who may not have been admitted to other institutions due to academic, financial, or societal barriers.
MSIs have made a significant impact on higher education in the United States. Graduates of MSIs are more likely to stay in their respective communities and pursue advanced degrees, creating a positive cycle of leadership and community development.
However, MSIs face many challenges in their day-to-day operations and long-term strategic planning. Funding disparities are one major issue, as MSIs receive less funding than other institutions. In addition, racial inequality still exists, negatively impacting students and faculty of color. To address these challenges, MSIs need increased financial support from federal and state governments, private foundations, and corporate partners. They also need strategies to address issues of racial inequality, including hiring practices, curriculum changes, and student support services.
Examples of communities working toward greater diversity in cybersecurity
Many minority-serving institutions in the US are working hard to make a difference in the lives of the communities they serve. Here are three examples:
1. Howard University
Howard University, located in Washington, D.C., has been a private, historically black university since 1867. The university is dedicated to serving the African American community and offers a variety of programs that help students develop the skills they need to succeed both personally and professionally. Howard offers undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs and is known for its focus on social justice and advocacy.
2. California State University, Los Angeles
California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) is a public university in Los Angeles, California. CSULA has a diverse student body, with many students from minority backgrounds. To help support its minority students, the university offers many programs and services, such as the Center for Engagement, Service, and the Public Good, which provides resources and support for students interested in social justice and community engagement.
3. New Mexico Highlands University
New Mexico Highlands University is a public university in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The university strongly focuses on serving the Hispanic community and offers a variety of programs and services to support its minority students. For example, the university offers a bilingual education program that helps students become fluent in both English and Spanish and provides a number of scholarships for minority students who demonstrate academic excellence.
These minority-serving institutions are dedicated to helping their communities by providing education and support for minority students. By offering various academic programs, community engagement opportunities, and support services, these institutions are working hard to ensure that minority students have the resources they need to achieve their goals and positively impact their communities.
Department of Homeland Security
The Intelligence and Cybersecurity Diversity Fellowship Program is another example of an initiative that seeks to promote diversity within this field. This program was created by The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to recruit more diverse talent into its ranks by providing fellowships for students from underrepresented backgrounds who are interested in pursuing careers in intelligence or cybersecurity.
The DHS has made a concerted effort to promote and develop highly skilled intelligence and cybersecurity professionals through its qualified student internship program. This program is designed to recruit top-performing individuals from leading institutions of higher learning who are keen on gaining hands-on technical experience, interacting with experts and peers at professional development events, and expanding their professional network at national conferences.
Throughout the 12-week program, participants get to work alongside seasoned professionals, who serve as their mentors, to develop their skills and capabilities in the intelligence and cybersecurity fields. With unparalleled access to cutting-edge technology and advanced resources, the participants are immersed in a federal work environment. They are expected to contribute to ongoing projects while performing assigned tasks within their respective tracks.
This program presents an excellent opportunity for aspiring intelligence and cybersecurity professionals to gain invaluable real-world experience, build meaningful relationships with industry experts, and develop their talents and expertise in a dynamic, fast-paced environment. Moreover, successful participation in the program opens the doors to a host of rewarding career opportunities in this exciting and ever-evolving field, making it one of the best stepping stones for students intending to make their mark in intelligence or cybersecurity.
To qualify for this program, interested individuals must meet specific eligibility criteria. Prospective candidates must currently be enrolled as a freshman, sophomore, or junior at a higher-learning institution. However, preference is given to applicants who attend Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), with a primary emphasis on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
These institutions have a rich history of serving as important centers of higher education for African American students. Therefore, the program aims to support these institutions by offering opportunities to deserving students who might not otherwise have access to such resources. This aligns with the broader goal of increasing diversity and promoting equal access to education at all levels.
These initiatives have had positive outcomes when it comes to increasing participation from underrepresented groups in this field. For example, CEDI has helped MSIs create new courses on topics such as cybersecurity fundamentals, digital forensics analysis, network security engineering, and ethical hacking. These courses enable more students from underrepresented backgrounds to access quality education on these topics. Additionally, DHS’s fellowship program has resulted in an increase in recruitment from diverse backgrounds.
Overall, progress has been made toward promoting diversity within this sector, but much work remains to be done to achieve true equity and inclusion.
Organizations must continue their efforts towards creating initiatives that provide educational opportunities for those from underrepresented backgrounds as well as creating policies that foster an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome regardless of their background or identity.