The Women at RSA Conference 2015

by Bill Brenner on April 7, 2015

Renowned writer Violet Blue recently noted that the speaking agenda at RSA Conference 2015 includes only five women and only one of which is a security practitioner:

At least one person on Twitter felt it was an unfair observation; that there’s nothing wrong with women going to conferences to talk about their kids.

It’s a noteworthy post. I, too, would like to see more women speaking at conferences like RSA. Five out of 25 is a small ratio. I don’t say this as a fan of quotas, but as someone who has learned a lot from the female perspective in my lifetime.

While Blue doesn’t say so specifically, my impression is that she was lamenting the lack of female security practitioners, that women on the bill should be there to talk security, not kids. If I read her right, it’s a fair point. It is a security conference, and those of us who will attend want to hear about that subject.

Having said that, I’m not against people straying from the subject, either. Many life lessons can be applied to how we approach our profession. I’ve gotten a lot of good security lessons through the trial and error of parenting, such as managing the desire to share pics and funny things kids say against the need to protect their privacy. If the women on the agenda talk about children in a way that’ll give us something to think about as security practitioners, so much the better.

My thinking on this topic has certainly evolved. In 2013, I wrote that folks speaking at a security conference should keep their talks to security:

The organizers never should have put her on the agenda in the first place. I have no issues with Violet Blue and her chosen topics. But this talk was billed as the stuff of “party conversation fodder.” I’m all for having fun, but I’m also a purist in that I believe a security event should have an agenda that stays on topic.

If Blue is indeed suggesting the few women on the agenda are an ill fit for a security conference, perhaps her thinking has evolved, too.

Update:

Violet Blue clarified her position in this post. She wrote:

My concern is that by taking a handful of women respected in their fields and by placing them in the male arena of infosec and having them as a majority speak only about issues and topics seen as specific to their gender – i.e. concern for families and babies – furthers the destructive infantilization of the perception of women’s roles in infosec. It is this infantilization that I see as most destructive to the facilitation of women owning a deserved lion’s share of equality in infosec. I feel that if the majority of women in positions of power in a speaking capacity at RSA were seen as speaking about interests of interest to infosec as a whole, rather than pertaining particularly what is seen as an interest to their gender, we’d have more of the progress we’d like to see.

 

RSA Conference USA 2015

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