A Meandering Rant on Sexism in Security

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jack Daniel

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This has been a bad year for technology. 

Not necessarily for the business of technology (although it is very hard to discuss the current state of the tech and InfoSec biz without using the word “bubble”), but for the culture and future of tech.

I commented on the depressing “booth babe” situation at RSA in this year’s RSA wrap-up blog post, it is an ongoing embarrassment.  As I’ve said before, in the right contexts I have nothing against attractive people, fast cars, or other things normally used to sell cheap beer- I just don’t believe tech and security events are the correct contexts. 

There are not very many women in tech, and that is not a simple problem to fully diagnose or correct.  There is plenty of blame to go around, starting with the way we market to and educate brainwash young folks, but what we do inside tech industries is our responsibility and we have a lot to fix.

A couple of weeks ago I was at Infosecurity Europe in London.  It is very much like a somewhat smaller (but still big) RSA San Francisco event.  The attendees (at least from my perch in the Tenable booth) were much more likely to be customers seeking information on the latest products and services than attendees at RSA, which certainly gets a lot of customers- but is really a business-to-business event IMHO. 

I had many great conversations with customers, prospects, and folks who just wanted to chat.  I’m looking forward to going back next year- but I’m working out my schedule so that I can get over to BSides London next time.  BUT, the booth babe phenomenon was a blight on Infosecurity Europe, too.  Probably worse than RSA.

Last week I was at InterOP Las Vegas.  It is a big networking show, with a healthy dose of cloud, and a touch of security.  I enjoyed the event, and hope to put together some thoughts about what “security” means to a non-security crowd. 

Sadly, there were more “booth babes” than in years past.  Special dishonorable mention goes to WatchGuard for succumbing to the lure of the booth babe over technical innovation in a field they dominated a decade ago.

And then there was the Dell fiasco.  Dell had a partner event in Denmark and the moderator they hired for the day was, well, not moderate.  In a series of demeaning and sexist remarks following Michael Dell’s talk Mads Christensen said some really inappropriate things. 

The primary source of coverage is this post at Elektronista (if you are a sentient being, you’ll probably want to skip the comments), and Molly Wood has a good follow up post on why we need to keep talking about women in tech

Sadly, Dell has only apologized weakly thus far, and no actions appear to have been taken.  It looks like Christensen issued a non-apology (I’m sorry if you were offended…). 

The ability to hire and retain good employees is critical to a company’s ability to execute, and with a dire shortage of candidates for many security and tech roles Dell’s mistake and subsequent inaction may cause them some HR pain.  Let’s hope it does.

And, not to be completely negative here, ExtraHop Networks gets credit for going in a different direction to draw attention to their booth.  And they are doing it because what they do works, not as a political statement. Because it works, the excuse for using booth babes, is turned around here.  See this post at Network World for details and links.

As a reminder, I’m an old, white, heterosexual male with a great job.  I’m supposed to be part of the problem, not one of the voices ranting about it.  I can’t imagine my outrage if I were a woman trying to deal with the tech industry.  It is unacceptable.

By the way, I’ve been an “old boy” for a while now, and yet I have not received a single invitation to join any of the much-heralded Old Boys’ Clubs.  Perhaps I’ve done something to offend the Old Boys’ Clubs, such as not wanting this industry to be one.

Cross-posted from Uncommon Sense Security

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Terry Perkins Great article. There are not very many women in the field. The good news is that it is getting better. I've been in IT for more than 25 years so I do see an increase. However, it would be wonderful to see more.
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Dawn Tatum I just read this article and I must say I agree. I've been in IT for over 25 years as well and being a woman in this industry is difficult. It's really demeaning when the "booth babes" come out. It makes it even more difficult to be taken seriously, especially if you are attractive - which goes for both men and women. I thought by now we could have made progress, but I guess not. Some things never change.
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