While members of Congress discussed the nationwide technical skills gap at a hearing on Wednesday, tech-industry advocates on Capitol Hill looked for ways to reduce the cybersecurity sector’s gender gap.

“The Greater Washington region is facing a skills shortage, particularly in the fields of IT and cybersecurity,” said Steve Partridge, vice president of workforce and economic development at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), at a hearing of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Partridge said that while 11,000 students in the D.C. region graduated college with IT degrees in 2017, the region needs 20,000 new IT workers to meet current demand. “Businesses have to either steal from competitors or import labor from other markets,” he said.

To respond to that level of demand, NOVA partnered with Lockheed Martin and Amazon to offer apprenticeships to students in IT. Partridge also said the college has created a “Tech Talent Pipeline,” through which experts reach out to students in K-12 schools to create awareness and interest in IT education at an early stage.

Just down the hall from Wednesday’s committee hearing, the Executive Women’s Forum on Information Security, Risk Management and Privacy (EWF) met for its Public/Private Symposium to raise awareness of EWF members’ technical expertise and their availability to serve as senior subject matter experts for members of Congress and their staffs.

“Our community not only brings their expert knowledge, we also bring a woman’s perspective and our experiences into the legislative process,” said Joyce Brocaglia, chief executive officer of Alta Associates and founder of EWF.

EWF said it determined that only 21 percent of witnesses at congressional cybersecurity-related hearings were women, and also found that 80 percent of cybersecurity experts that advise members of Congress are male. “Clearly, women subject matter experts are being underutilized,” said Brocaglia.

Improving IT workforce diversity also figured prominently at Wednesday’s committee hearing. “In certain occupations, including the tech sector, women and people of color are woefully underrepresented, and the skills gap can be more of an outreach gap,” said Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif.

“Women and minorities aren’t being represented as much as they should in these fields, and that’s partly because we don’t have those programs in the high schools to encourage them to participate,” Partridge added.

The EWF forum hit on a similar note. “It takes encouragement. Why do little girls not think that they’re good at math? How do we help them get excited about the math that is necessary to be a computer scientist?” asked Jan Tighe, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare and Director of Naval Intelligence.

In order to tackle the cybersecurity skills gap, both groups will have to find the answer to that question.

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