A recent opinion piece by a leading cybersecurity female executive explained that she had begun taking actions during various business interactions to subtly confront the seeming ubiquitous occurrence of gender bias in the IT world. For instance, she had begun heading off assumptions made by vendor sales reps – who otherwise would talk to her as if she was a junior IT executive – by briefly noting her title and relevant technical knowledge at the start of meetings. At industry conferences she had discovered that if she wore business-logo shirts male attendees coming by the booth would trust in her knowledge, skipping any patronizing chatter. At work, she found that less flowery, flamboyant attire seemed to garner more respect from male executive leaders and co-workers.
Other examples followed. Pretty much all seemed practical. As a seasoned female executive myself, I registered understanding at many as I read them down. Still, immediately after finishing the piece and for several days after I was annoyed by it.
I completely understand where the author was coming from given persistent and long-standing gender inequities most all females confront at some point in their careers, cybersecurity-related or otherwise. Yet, the article still bugs me.
Opportunity is banging on our door. Let's answer it together.”
Indeed, there are various decisions my female friends and I make daily that directly or indirectly correlate to problems we have faced or may face as a result of gender bias in our working lives. The fact that we still have to entertain these thoughts and their related actions – that a highly educated and seasoned technology practitioner who has a vast array of professional experiences feels compelled to share with a wider audience of women day-to-day tactics that work for her in tackling such bias on the job – is vexatious and tiresome.
It's akin to having a thorn in your foot that you just can't seem to find and remove. Or maybe it's more like having some inexplicable migraine or toothache that never really goes away no matter the attention given to it. The unflagging annoyance is even more exasperating when accounting for such things as current cybersecurity workforce demands. Symantec CEO Michael Brown reportedly noted recently that needs here are expected to hit somewhere in the neighborhood of six million jobs worldwide by 2019 and have a shortfall of about 1.5 million. And there are a slew of other studies from the likes of Indeed.com or Cisco forecasting these not-so-distant challenges. Yet, women, who comprise half of the workforce in the wider tech industry, fill only about 11 percent of cybersecurity jobs, according to Frost & Sullivan's “Information Security Workforce Study: Women in Cybersecurity.”
Before anyone complains, I'm not conflating projected job shortages with gender inequities. I am simply reminding us all how much room there is for women AND men in the IT and IT security workforce. I'm pointing out why it's more important than ever – and just plain common sense – to get over any preconceived notions of others' capabilities and prowess based on gender bias or any other unjustifiable prejudice one might have, and then make attempts to correct such fruitless and unnecessary behaviors, so we all can move the heck forward already.
Strong female executives are handily doing that, but seeing gender diversity, equal pay and sound consideration for promotions to upper management posts become the norm ultimately would be beneficial to the corporate world as a whole. As the aforementioned author implied in her piece, when erudite women leave a company because of a lack of gender diversity and basic respect, often that company will experience a problematic knowledge vacuum that can hugely impact production timelines, brand respect, team morale, bottom lines and more.
As we note in our annual Women in IT security issue, despite all the tired issues all of us still must rail against and overcome, opportunity is banging on our door. Let's answer it together.
Illena Armstrong is VP, editorial of SC Media.