Getty Images

Diversity and the Cyber Workforce

Data shows that the federal cybersecurity workforce is less diverse than the government overall, but addressing the disparity will take more than hiring more diverse employees, say DEIA experts and federal tech executives.

The federal government's cybersecurity workers is less diverse than the overall pool of government employees. 

The Biden administration has identified diversity and inclusion in the government workforce as an administration priority. But recruiting and retaining a diverse set of employees in the cyber arena will require changes to workplace cultures, experts say.

Data shows that the cybersecurity workforce in government isn't as diverse as the rest of government, said Dexter Brooks, associate director of the Office of Federal Operations in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, during a Jan. 25 panel on cybersecurity and diversity held by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE).

In terms of gender, women make up a smaller proportion of federal IT jobs than they do in the overall federal workforce. About 45% of the federal workforce is women, but women make up less than 30% of federal IT employees, said Brooks.

And both women and people of color hold leadership positions at a lower rate in the IT space than the government writ large, Brooks said. 

These issues aren't necessarily new for agencies, said Simon Szykman, senior vice president at Maximus, during a press call with reporters centered on the release of the Professional Services Council's 2021 CIO report. That report also flagged workforce issues in agencies, which often struggle to compete for competitive IT talent.

But DEIA is getting more attention. The White House released a sweeping executive order in 2021 on DEIA in the government workforce. 

"I think that many of those challenges have been there all along. They're just being surfaced more readily and getting more attention right now, mainly because of the priority that the current administration has put on diversity, equity and inclusion as a priority for the government workforce," Szykman said.

Increasing diversity among the IT and cybersecurity workforce will require getting to the root causes of why people might not picture themselves in the field or feel included once they are on the job, many experts say. 

When asked about policy fixes to gender inclusion in the federal IT space, Laura Stanton, an assistant commissioner in the Federal Acquisition Service at the General Services Administration, said that while there are pipeline issues in terms of getting diverse candidates in the workforce, culture plays an outsized role. 

"When you look at the technology industry, it's really the business values and the culture that is one of the barriers, and that's not a policy issue," she said at a Jan. 19 panel held by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management.

"That's really taking a hard look at how we work, how we behave - and this is across the public and private sector - but really taking a look at the opportunities to be able to shift the culture to be more inclusive," she said. 

Brooks said that the EEOC recommends that agencies start with data on their workforces to understand the situation by using it to look for barriers preventing equal opportunity.

It's a misconception that hiring more diverse candidates alone will fix the problem. 

"What is the origin of that," Brooks said of the data showing disparities in the federal cyber workforce. "Are there policies, practices or procedures in place that facilitate that lack of inclusion? That's the harder part in terms of changing it."

The White House recommended in its executive order is that agencies hire chief diversity officers. 

The FBI's first chief diversity officer, Scott McMillion, said at the NICE event that his work is ensuring that DEIA is "part of the FBI's DNA."

"Diversity inclusion and equity and accessibility cannot be something that is an afterthought," he said.

The Bureau is prioritizing these efforts in its policies through including DEIA in performance evaluations for senior executives at the FBI and adding it as a performance objective for all supervisors, McMillion said.

Brooks pointed to training for hiring managers to understand their own implicit biases as another  tool.

There are some DEIA issues specific to the federal technology space. 

Entry level jobs in the IT space are lacking, for example, limiting options for who can join and with what qualifications. According to Brooks, there are proportionately fewer entry level IT jobs than there are for the total federal workforce.

Other experts have flagged the impact of often expensive certifications as a barrier to entry.

Outdated federal HR structures also have an impact. Limited specific IT job classifications mean that data about the federal cybersecurity workforce in particular isn't necessarily "clean," Brooks said. It's hard to drill down on cyber workers in particular.

There are also governmentwide legal restraints for data collection on government employees, especially in the areas of sexual orientatiotn and gender identity.

Ultimately, this type of work will help the government compete for talent, said Rita Sampson, director of the Office of Personnel Management's DEIA office. 

"You can hire anyone, but the organization has to be ready," she said. It "has to have the culture that is welcoming, has to acknowledge the talent that walks in the door and gives them a place of belonging and empowerment and is committed to their development and enhancement. So those are the challenges of DEIA.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.