Next week’s DEF CON 24 will have a royal flavor with the addition of TiaraCon, a 2-day mini-conference created to advance the careers of women in the cybersecurity profession–an important mission, as 209,000 US cybersecurity jobs were left unfilled in 2015, and very few women enter the field.

TiaraCon is free to attend, and will take place August 4-5 at Bally’s in Las Vegas. It will include a workshop, a panel discussion, a networking meet-and-greet, and a resume bar where attendees can have their CVs reviewed by experts in the cybersecurity staffing field.

“I want to create more inclusive workplaces that are welcoming to women, transgender folks, and gender non-binary folks, so those voices are all accounted for and you get more diverse thinking,” said Sarah Clarke, a security advisor and TiaraCon organizer. “TiaraCon puts people together who want inclusive workplace environments, and gives people a chance to hire them, support them, and create mentoring and friendship networks so no one is ever alone.”

SEE: Women in tech: 20 stories of women doing big things with their tech skills

The idea came from a group of women, including Clarke, over lunch at DEF CON last year. The group initially wanted to plan a party, but high interest levels and community support turned it into a two-day mini-conference. As of Friday, TiaraCon had 250 RSVPs. Organizers expect a crowd of 300-400 at the event.

“Most cybersecurity events are boys’ clubs, so we wanted a place that was feminine and inclusive of everyone, and just completely different,” Clarke said. The name TiaraCon represents that “everyone is special and deserves a seat at the table,” Clark said.

Exploring the stats

Women held 25% of professional computing occupations in 2015, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology–down from an all-time high of 36% in 1991. Only 17% of Fortune 500 Chief Information Officer positions were held by women in 2015.

The cybersecurity employment stats are even more sobering: Women make up only 11% of the world’s information security workforce, according to the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu, and just 1% of its leadership. Meanwhile, the field itself is experiencing a huge shortage, and job postings in the profession have gone up 74% over the past five years.

Many women don’t know that the job is an excellent option for working mothers, Clarke said, with its high pay and often remote, flexible hours. “It’s a great career for women, and we want them to know that,” she added.

US News and World Report ranked a career in information security analysis fifth on its list of best technology jobs. Average salaries nationally are $88,890, and significantly higher in cities such as San Francisco and New York.

Keeping women in cybersecurity

A 2008 Harvard Business Review study found that as many as 50 percent of women working in science, engineering, and technology will leave over time because of hostile work environments. These included a “hostile” male culture, a sense of isolation, and a lack of a clear career path. An updated study in 2014 found the reasons had not changed significantly.

“Tech environments have massive turnover and are often emotionally volatile,” said Deirdre Diamond, CEO of CyberSN. “Women are not only not joining cyber–they are leaving cyber because of the culture.”

On Friday at TiaraCon, a workshop led by Diamond will examine how women can communicate more powerfully and the art of conflict resolution. “The women who are coming to my workshop want to get into leadership–the soft skills matter, and no one is training them,” Diamond said. “I want other women and minorities to have what I have–a career of serious fun, travel, and a big income, in an industry that is the heart of the economy.”

Later on Friday, a panel featuring Cheryl Biswas, Tracy Z. Maleeff, Kat Sweet and Cherise Esparza Gutierrez will discuss how and why women’s differences make them stronger.

TiaraCon organizers will also release a spreadsheet listing people looking for work and companies looking to hire soon.

“It’s not some girly thing, but a serious game changing, hiring changing, corporate culture changing event,” Clarke said. “We would love for tech leaders to come. The more supportive as a culture we can be of women, transgendered people and non-gender binary folks, the better of we’re going to be.”

The community has responded enthusiastically, and are funding most of the event. TiaraCon is sponsored by #brainbabe, CyberSN, InGuardians, and ZZ Servers.

SEE: Computer science teachers need cybersecurity education says CSTA industry group

Encouraging young women in tech

Women earned 57% of all bachelor’s degrees granted in 2014, but only 17% of those in computer and information sciences.

Part of the problem in cybersecurity is that it is a relatively new field compared to other computer sciences, and women are less aware of it, said Lauren Heyndrickx, security director for JCPenney and a member of Women in Technology’s Cybersecurity Special Interest Group. Many more colleges and universities offer courses in cybersecurity today than a decade ago, so the numbers will likely pick up eventually, she added.

“People need to understand that it’s more than just patching hackers or running into obscure dark nets,” Heyndrickx said. Successful security teams include aspects of business, law, compliance, and other areas.

Heyndrickx recommends women interested in the field connect with community groups such as Women in Technology. Many online trainings and certifications are available for low or no cost, “which allows people to dig in without having to break the bank,” she added. “Don’t be scared away by security geeks that talk a language you don’t understand–just go for it.”

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. TiaraCon, a 2-day mini-conference at DEF CON 24, was created to advance the careers of women in the cybersecurity profession. It will take place August 4-5 at Bally’s in Las Vegas, and is free, with limited space.
  2. Women make up only 11% of the world’s information security workforce, according to the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu, and just 1% of its leadership. Meanwhile, the field is experiencing a huge shortage, as 209,000 US cybersecurity jobs were left unfilled in 2015.
  3. Women interested in cybersecurity should connect with community groups that offer online trainings and certifications for low or no cost.