By Krista Montie
It started with a discussion at RSA. “We had noticed that there were not a lot of minorities in the room, and in one session there were only three black males and no females,” said Aric K. Perminter, a president of the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals (ICMCP). “So, a group of us attending RSA started talking among ourselves, discussing the lack of diversity in the industry overall and said there must be something we can do. And that was the beginning of ICMCP.”
ICMCP, a 501(c)3 nonprofit based in New York City, was founded in 2014 to address the lack of diversity in the cybersecurity workforce. According to the Global Information Security Workforce Study, minorities represent 26% of the cybersecurity profession, and of those, only 23% hold a title of director or above. “We must do better than this,” said Perminter.
ICMCP’s mission is to achieve the consistent representation of women and minorities in the cybersecurity industry through programs designed to foster recruitment, inclusion and retention. The mission is accomplished through four core programs, which have become the foundation of the organization.
- Educational Scholarships: ICMCP is helping women and minorities reach success in the field of cybersecurity through the creation of scholarships for certifications, two-year, and four-year programs. ICMCP has awarded over $200K to date. “One of the scholarships is unique to ICMCP, because its criteria are related to authenticity and hard work versus GPA averages,” said Perminter.
- Mentoring Program: ICMCP’s Mutual Match Mentor-Protege Program is one-to-one, personalized mentoring available to members. Individuals can fill out surveys of what their goals are and get matched with a mentor. It’s typically a three to six-month relationship. “A lot of soft skills are acquired, and it’s a win-win for the mentor and the mentee,” said Perminter. “In one case, one of our mentors helped a young man not only get a coveted job but helped him negotiate a fairer salary.”
- Diverse Workforce Development: This program is all about helping ICMCP members establish knowledge and skills, helping them get internships and jobs. A key component is a cybersecurity competency-based profile, where members can load their resume into a system and then assess themselves against what type of job or career they are looking for. The system will tell them what skills gaps they have and what else they would need to do to get their dream job. “We are creating cybersecurity career paths with our members,” said Perminter.
- Awareness & Advocacy: ICMCP is working to bring awareness of the growing career and business opportunities in the field of cybersecurity to minority and underserved communities around the country.
As demographics shift and the definition of minorities becomes more inclusive, the scope of ICMCP has evolved as well to cover diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). “These words and the issues they point to loom large in cybersecurity. It’s hard to go a week without reading an article about a company touting its dedication to diversity, while another is called out for tolerating oppressive comments and workplace practices,” said Perminter.
In examining why minorities are so underrepresented in the cyber workforce, Perminter sees a number of concerns. “I think there is an unconscious bias about education: if you don’t have an Ivy League degree, you aren’t getting hired. But that is starting to change, and companies are more willing to hire without that requirement.” The lack of awareness and career tracks for students is also another issue. ICMCP is moving toward getting more involved with high school STEM efforts in collaboration with other organizations already tackling those challenges. Another problem Perminter sees is actually trying to over-correct the diversity problem. “In some cases, what you have is a situation where you get a bunch of minorities being hired to show ‘diversity,’ but there are no real programs, mentorships or clear development tracks, and these individuals aren’t given the support they need to succeed or stay with their employer.”
While much of ICMCP’s work is in the U.S., it does have a global reach, which it hopes to expand. Some of those international challenges include lack of technology infrastructure to build sufficient programs. Last year, ICMCP partnered with a local bank and a university in South Africa for a program designed to transition workers from front line call center operators into IT analyst positions. 2,000 people applied; 25 were selected, and of those, 18 successfully made the transition. This will be used as a model for other locations as well. Just one small example of the positive impact ICMCP is making.
ICMCP accomplishes all of its activities through sponsorships; they do not receive any government funding or grants. ICMCP offers various levels of sponsorships and welcomes donations as well.
“We appreciate all of the support from our sponsors, donors and other partners,” said Perminter. “At the end of the day, it’s about coming together for an important cause.”
To learn more about ICMCP’s efforts and how to become involved, visit online at https://www.icmcp.org/.