Earlier this year, the RSA cyber security conference came under fire for including only one female keynote speaker in a line-up of 20. The issue is not unique: In January, the CES technology conference also revealed a line-up lacking women speakers.
When challenged, RSA said that women in cyber security are hard to find. This isn’t true, say BAE Systems threat intelligence analysts Kirsten Ward and Saher Naumaan, who have just launched what they claim is the first cyber security conference of its kind in Europe, featuring an all-female speaker line up.
“It means they’re not trying hard enough,” says Naumaan. “There are plenty of exceptional women qualified to speak at such conferences. But because they are not promoted or given as much exposure as men, their participation is disproportionately skewed. We’re correcting this existing imbalance: all any conference organisers have to do is what we did – put in a little effort.”
The pair had noticed a lack of diversity at cyber security conferences, which in some cases resulted in a “less than welcoming environment”, says Ward. But she and her colleague decided to take action, pitching an idea to their business: a cyber security event aiming to reset the balance – aptly named ‘RESET’.
“We are debunking the myth that there aren’t enough women experts out there,” says Naumaan. “These experts exist in abundance, more than enough for a full-day conference line-up. The goal is to normalise the idea of women speakers in these contexts: it shouldn’t be a one-off, but rather an institutionalised change that reflects the expertise out there.”
In fact, Ward explains, the two produced a list of over 100 experts in the industry before even asking anyone to present. “That took a few hours and we could have kept the list going,” Ward says.
The issue is certainly being recognised by many in the industry, with entire conferences organised to discuss increasing the number of women working in cyber security. Indeed, the gender diversity conversation is already being had at events: Infosec, for example includes ‘women in security’ networking sessions. Panels of women are often asked to talk about the issues preventing more females from getting into the sector.