Women in IT Security: Progress despite inequities

For our inaugural Women in IT Security edition last year, I shared with you why we decided to launch this annual special. I explained then that while some of our industry contacts might have contended that dedicating close-to-an-entire edition on women professionals in this field may actually widen a gulf of inequality (whether in our contacts' minds or those of the many women who have worked in this space for years or who are entering it now), my editorial team and I disagreed. 

We still do. The fact is that although we continue making some headway toward embracing a diverse workforce in the IT security field, we're still far from fully realizing this end. And, that not only goes for the information security marketplace but also for most, if not just about all, industries. The difference is that information technology fields generally (and maybe a bit notoriously, given the various and sundry reports of sexual harassment, discrimination, bias and more) see fewer women in the many professions comprising this still growing space. 

So, here we are in our second year of this dedicated special issue in which we call out exemplary female pros who are contributing mightily to the evolution of this field, while, at the same time, fostering an environment that shows support to the professional development of other female practitioners already in it and helps to see even more talented women enter its ranks. We also explore an array of happenings and topics, big and small, that are impacting in some way women IT security professionals, whether positively or negatively. And there have been plenty of instances to mull over. 

"...women pros still have lower median salaries..."

For example, RSA Conference organizers, at the urging of industry pros both male and female, implemented this year a dress code that eliminated the much-debated presence in their exposition hall of so-called booth babes. Indeed, not only among pros in this field but in plenty of others as well, the occurrence of booth babes has been fielding much criticism. Especially over the last three or so years, the debate about having scantily clad women arming booths during information security shows in attempts to encourage (usually male) attendees to stop and learn more about products and services has grown more controversial. Many industry pundits note that prolonging this antiquated practice only continues to fuel instances of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior during what should be professional business events attended by a diverse pool of practitioners. 

Now, just how diverse that pool is becoming still is a work in progress. For instance, according to a Harvey Nash CISO survey that hit earlier this year, 71 percent of 4,000 global respondents say that women are under-represented in IT departments. In the privacy field, there's a 50-50 split of male and female practitioners, according to the IAPP 2015 Privacy Professional Salary Survey. (Yet, despite that even split, women pros still have lower median salaries at $125K compared to their male counterparts who see a median income of $130K.) Meanwhile, in the compliance space, 46 percent of women now hold the position of compliance officer, Bureau of Labor Statistics shows. Only 18 percent of information security analysts are female, however. 

I do hope there will come a time when my team and I won't feel compelled to call out the many women IT security professionals who are triumphing over still persistent inequities and instances of discrimination to make innumerable contributions to help propel the information security industry forward. After all, talented female professionals in whatever line of work should just be known and acknowledged as talented professionals -- whether we're talking equality in professional titles, promotions, salaries, acknowledgement of corporate- and industry-wide contributions, general roles and responsibilities, and more.

For now, though, we'll carry on celebrating the strong and gifted female IT security leaders who continue to excel in their chosen positions and bolster the growth of this fast-paced industry through their many outstanding achievements.

Illena Armstrong is VP, editorial of SC Magazine.

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