Advocating for gender diversity together

Illena Armstrong, VP, editorial, SC Magazine
Illena Armstrong, VP, editorial, SC Magazine

In April, PayPal's diversity and women's group, known as Unity - Women@PayPal, marketed an event to its wider organization that consisted of an all-male panel convened to talk about gender equality. Touted as a talk with the company's “senior male leaders” to discuss “how men and women can partner to achieve a better workplace,” the presentation was part of the group's “Unity Speaker Series.” 

Quite unsurprisingly, responses from individual IT practitioners, gender-diversity activists and various other groups and industry bodies were swift and critical through social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. In response, Unity's president, Nolwenn Godard, stated on her Facebook page that this particular talk was looking to focus on bringing together “male allies” since gender equality is not simply “a women's issue” alone. A bit simple but kind of understandable, her point led to further extrapolation from LaFawn Bailey, PayPal's global head of culture, in a subsequent blog post. 

“It will take all of us to create an inclusive workplace environment where involvement, respect, collaboration and connections are cultivated. I recognize that for men to be a catalyst for change, we have to create an environment for honest dialog to occur,” she wrote. The idea behind the panel, which was open to all PayPal employees, she added, was to gain “a different perspective and spur advocacy around gender balance.”

"Accomplished, intelligent and experienced women are filling executive leadership roles...”

I followed the story with interest and wonder. For me, as a long-time female executive, it exemplified a couple of the impediments to advancing equality in various marketplaces generally, and more specifically in the IT and IT security industries. As well, the irony of both the event and the subsequent statements regarding it seemed out of reach to the apparently accomplished female pros responding to the criticism.

I know of few women executives who aren't champions of open discussion and advocacy to address ever-persistent gender-diversity problems. So, yes, courting and securing advocacy from men to bolster equality in the workplace (and beyond, for that matter) is absolutely appropriate, sound, necessary and welcome. 

Yet the idea of holding an event on such matters as inclusion, respect and other gender-diversity issues that was blatantly absent any formally appointed representation from the very group that still is marginalized was weirdly short-sighted. What's more, the reasoning in follow-up responses that evidently triggered the creation of a formal panel which solely featured men as the primary speakers only served to inflame the situation's strange incongruity for me.

Here's the thing: Accomplished, intelligent and experienced women are filling executive leadership roles in IT/IT security fields and beyond. Regarding the information security industry specifically, according to recent research, women comprise about 10 percent of the IT security workforce, retention of these women is holding pretty steady despite a slight drop, and the overall number of women in the field has grown overall.

Female executives are soldiering forward, advancing gender diversity across any number of fields by sheer force of will and most assuredly because of their knowledge and qualifications. Having support for such fitting inroads from our male colleagues only goes to widen the reach of what simply should be an everyday, commonly known and readily accepted state of affairs in 2016. 

Still, we can't let up. Coverage of PayPal's all-male panel and the reactions to it is just one example why that is. The fact that companies like Sophos, Dell, yes, PayPal and still other IT/IT security companies even now have too few or no women at all on their leadership and management teams illustrates another reason why tenacity and persistence is required to advance a whole-hearted embrace of gender diversity in workplaces across IT, IT security and certainly many other fields.

And that's what our annual Women in IT Security issue is all about – exploring gender equality issues and advances, as well as promoting the tireless, accomplished, well-educated and knowledgeable women practitioners in our field who are unflinching in their own pursuits and in their actions to help continually evolve the wider information security space. 

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