Adding women and diversity in tech can help defeat cyberattacks – Austin American-Statesman

In today’s business world, planning for cyberattacks is essential. Major employers, government offices, healthcare systems, and utility infrastructure have all become cybercrime victims. Last year, U.S. businesses experienced cybercrime damage resulting in potential losses exceeding $6.9 billion, according to the FBI’s 2021 Internet Crime Report. Texas ranked second for the most money lost, with $606.2 million reported.
As we saw earlier this month, the threat of a devastating cybersecurity attack is also ever-present in Austin. On December 5, a ransomware attack targeted the Travis Central Appraisal District, shutting down its phone lines and an online chat system. Fortunately, this cyberattack did not affect taxpayer information or payments, but it took officials about a week to fully restore customer service operations.
In November, the Dallas Central Appraisal District faced a similar situation when ransomware shut down its website, servers, and email for more than two weeks. These cyberattacks show the vulnerability of our government systems and the importance of protecting the sensitive data they store.
The Internet Crime Report called last year’s increase in U.S. cyberattacks and malicious cyber activity “unprecedented.” In August, the Dallas FBI field office said it has seen a significant number of recent cyberattacks targeting private sector companies, critical infrastructure, and government agencies.
Combating cybercrime will require organizations to protect themselves with a talented cybersecurity-trained workforce. However, despite the critical need for more talent, there are more than 700,000 cybersecurity job openings in the U.S.—with nearly 13,000 in Austin alone. 
If higher salaries could solve this problem, the shortage wouldn’t exist. Filling these vacancies will require several recruitment changes. One such solution is to support and encourage populations that might not otherwise consider the IT field to do so. For example, Black, Latina, and Native American (BLNA) women represent approximately 16 percent of the U.S. population, yet they make up only 4 percent of students obtaining bachelor’s degrees in computing. By training and preparing BLNA women to pursue a career in cybersecurity, we are not only alleviating this shortage but introducing qualified talent into our workforce.
Nationwide, only 25 percent of tech graduates are women, and the dropout rate for tech classes is 37 percent, compared to 30 percent for other programs. If this trend continues, the number of underrepresented women of color receiving computing degrees will not double until 2052—by which time they will represent an increasingly smaller proportion of all graduates. To attract more BLNA women to cybersecurity, we need to show them that they are a priority and provide them with the support they need to achieve an IT degree. 
Western Governors University (WGU) is providing support to BLNA women pursuing cybersecurity even earlier in the pipeline. Reboot Representation Tech Coalition, a group of 21 leading tech companies that are committed to doubling the number of BLNA women receiving computing degrees by 2025, recently awarded the university a Building Bridges and Breaking Barriers for Women in Tech grant of nearly $1 million to significantly increase the number of BLNA women receiving undergraduate information technology degrees at WGU by 2025.
Cybercriminals constantly look for new ways to infiltrate computer systems and access data. We have seen the devastating effect cybercrimes have in Texas, which can have a trickle effect to supply chain issues in other nearby states. With computer viruses, malware, and scams becoming more sophisticated each day, we must better protect invaluable data by creating talent pipelines that connect organizations with homegrown candidates in Texas.
If tech companies can successfully create pathways for women—particularly women of color who face the greatest number of barriers—to pursue careers in technology, the industry will benefit from a much broader talent pool and realize new economic opportunities.
Linda Garza Battles serves as Chancellor of WGU Texas and Regional Vice President for Western Governors University’s South Region. Dwana Franklin-Davis is the CEO of Reboot Representation.


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