What not to ask a woman in the security field, where men make up 90% of the workforce: What's it like to be a woman in the security field?
Women information security professionals want to be equally respected and credited for the work they're doing to advance security. But that also means they must advocate for themselves and their work when no one else will, and even engage in a little self-promotion, something that doesn't come easy for many of us.
That was just one of the takeaways from the first-ever Black Hat USA luncheon and panel on women in IT security last week, Beyond the Gender Gap: Empowering Women in Security. I had the honor of moderating this panel of some of the industry's most accomplished women -- Justine Bone, independent consultant and a former CISO; Joyce Brocaglia, founder of the Executive Women’s Forum and CEO of Alta Associates; Jennifer Imhoff-Dousharm, co-founder, dc408 and Vegas 2.0 hacker groups; and Katie Moussouris, Chief Policy Officer at HackerOne.
The panel was not about complaining or lamenting the low numbers of women in security. These are women who got over being the only women in the room a long time ago. They very candidly shared their personal and sometimes painful journeys, their war stories, their successes, and their advice to other women in the industry, or for women looking to enter the field.
Bone says she learned a tough lesson about keeping a low profile during the years when she was heads-down helping start up and run Immunity Inc. Some people outside the company assumed she had been on maternity leave during that period, and she realized she should have been bringing her work to the attention of the security community. That cost her the outside recognition she could have earned for her work and accomplishments.
"Don't ask. Tell," Imhoff-Dousharm advises women in the field. It's all about confidence and not shying away from taking the initiative, Brocaglia and the other panelists agreed.
Men are part of the equation, too: they can serve as advocates and mentors for women in security, the panelists said, and should stand up for women when they witness sexual harassment or other discrimination at work or at conferences and social events.
As Moussouris says, the focus should be about her work, not her "plumbing."
Looking for further resources on empowering women in security? Check out the Executive Women's Forum (EWF) -- Brocaglia's brainchild -- and the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). In addition, here are some NCWIT resources: