A Place at the Table - Part 1

By Kristen Bell ·

Last year, I put together a presentation centered on women in IT security called, "A Place at the Table." The talk explored the reasons why women may not be attracted to our industry and how we can become better mentors to young women interested in technology. Some really compelling conclusions came out of my research and exploration into the topic. Due to the overwhelming interest in the topic, I decided to dive a little deeper into all of this and turn it into a blog series. I thought it best to start the series with a general overview of what I have discovered during my research, which will include a lot of information from the presentation itself.

Everyone in the IT security space is aware that we need to grow our workforce. According to Pew Research Center, the number of women far exceed the number of men enrolling in college and many are going into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors, but not engineering and technology (ET) majors. Randy Olson put the numbers together for us. In 2012, 40-45% of the degrees in math, statistics and physical science were awarded to women, although the percentages are much lower for engineering and computer science. These numbers tell me that we have an untapped resource and we need to figure out how we can better leverage that resource. We need to build our workforce not only from the male population, but also from the female population.

I've been approached over the years by people from within our industry, and outside it, who are curious about what it is like to be a woman in my field, so I wanted to not only open up the conversation, but go on a bit of exploration of what we can all be aware of to inspire change. Of course, in discussing a topic of this nature, generalizations are necessary and these ideas may not apply to everyone. That, I guess, is the most important disclaimer going forward.

Women have always been a part of technology. Ada Lovelace is one of my favorite examples. She was born in 1815 and was arguably the very first computer programmer. How is that possible? Well, that's where the argument comes in. Most accept her as the first computer programmer because she wrote the first algorithm meant to be executed by a machine. The machine was called the "Analytical Engine" and never came to fruition, but Ada's algorithm was considered to be so significant her notes were republished in 1953. The DoD named a military standard language (Ada) after her in 1980 and there's a day in mid-October called Ada Lovelace Day to celebrate women in STEM careers.

Since Sheryl Sandberg published Lean In the conversation around the lack of women in technology careers has really taken off, but it made me look back over my career. I came to realize that though there are few women in technology generally speaking, there are far fewer in IT security. I sought out to attempt to discover why. My research exposed some interesting opinions and theories. My original presentation went into detail about the obstacles women face in male dominated careers.  These ideas and experiences are important to share as well as understand in order to be effective mentors and will be revisited in future blogs within this series. Whether we are IT security business owners, C-level executives, parents or teachers, we need to become better and more effective mentors to women interested in STEM careers. We also need to understand the qualities women possess and can bring to the table to enhance our business.

In the second part of this blog post, I will explore how we all can become better mentors and the qualities women possess that allows them to thrive in the IT security field.

Continue to Part 2