The RSA Conference yesterday announced its full and finalized line-up of keynote speakers. The conference, one of the largest and most prominent in cybersecurity, had come under fire for having only one female keynote speaker: Childhood Resilience Foundation founder and anti-online harassment advocate Monica Lewinsky. That they had announced such a gender-skewed schedule during March—Women’s History Month—only added to the heat they duly received.
According to their press release, the RSA Conference will now feature other luminary female cybersecurity experts as keynote speakers, including:
- Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit that promotes female coding education and works to close the technology gender gap.
- Jane McGonigal, PhD, the Director of Games Research & Development at the Institute of the Future. She is a designer of alternate reality games to help solve real-world problems.
- Kirstjen Nielsen, current U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.
- Margot Lee Shetterly, the writer and researcher behind Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race.
That the RSA Conference heard the criticism leveled against them and made an effort to address the gender imbalance in their keynote speakers (whether adequately or not will be up to the reader’s discretion) demonstrates a step forward in closing the gender gap in cybersecurity.
However, this is merely a small step to fully addressing a toxic underlying problem in our industry. Female cybersecurity professionals still only make up 14% of the workforce in North America, and 11% globally. Female and/or minority cybersecurity and technology researchers have often been sidelined in history books for their male counterparts, as Shetterly’s book highlights.
Shedding the patriarchal notions in our hiring practices and in our solutions designs isn’t just a matter of ethics; it’s vital to our information security to recognize and design for people outside the white male bubble cybersecurity has created around itself. Let’s hope the RSA Conference’s backtracking might be a first step in recognizing that truth.
The RSA Conference will be held in Moscone Center in San Francisco and will run from April 16 to April 20.
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