Cyber Conferences, It Shouldn’t Be This Way

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I recently saw another posting/photo from a friend in the industry that showed what amounts to “booth babes” at yet another conference; this time it wasn’t in Vegas, it was in Europe. This issue is one of importance in an industry rife with failure on lots of levels, a lack of available talent, and that is saddled with a self-propagating cycle of “innovation” that often marginally solves problems. On a personal level, I’m a father, and I have two daughters who are both starting to branch out and are interested in technology, and it pains me that I may have to discuss with them that women should be technologists, innovators, creators, and leaders, not objects.

To put it bluntly, “we” must do better, and by “we,” I mean all of us. It’s lazy marketing and a failure of company morals to continue to actively push for marketing where females are the centerpiece of a show floor. My guess would be that if those same companies and marketers really looked at who is buying what and who is seeking solutions, they would see that having “eye candy” on the show floor is probably more of a wasted effort and expense than it is a draw when a conference takes place. If “we” would collectively focus on being more technically focused and espousing the viability and usefulness of the technology rather than offering fake smiles and weakly veiled sexism, I think everyone would be better. I know I would sure as hell get a lot more out of conference interactions, as I wouldn’t have to sift through the fake interactions and bogus smiles to find out what the tool or system does, but maybe that’s just me.

I understand that marketing isn’t easy; I get it that often there is a need to augment forces due to demand at events, and I respect that for some folks those roles are just what they do for work — that’s fine, but I still think collectively “we” can do better. RSA this year had a keynote from a “woman in technology” who hadn’t been in the space as far as anyone I talked to could tell for years, and while I do have respect for anyone that survived the kind of scandal she had come through, I can think of 20 better examples of women in tech that should have been on the roster. To be blunt, that was a fail in my opinion.

For whatever it’s worth (and before the haterade starts flowing), I realize that reading a comment on this from a retired military, white, computer science-trained, ex-cyber operations, male technology professional is probably the exact image of stereotypical hypocrisy most folks would ache to call out. But if you know me personally, then you would know this does bother me, and I know “we” can do better. And I’ll own my own failure here, as well: I had no idea just how prevalent the issue was until I really listened to the experiences of my co-workers, and I will honestly admit that it almost brought me to tears. To hear of those experiences and bias, and to know that if things don’t change and “we” don’t pay attention (myself included), the next generation of cyber professionals will face the same issues, hurts my soul.

For my part, all I can do is say that in the future, if I get an invite to an event that doesn’t feature or at least significantly include real diversity in the content or conversation, I won’t attend. Added to that, if something comes up wherein it’s a blatantly lame attempt at crap marketing around women in tech and that’s not what really is happening, I won’t participate. While I realize I am a very small cog in a much larger wheel, all I can hope for is that maybe if more dudes like myself actively be more selective about what we do participate in, then perhaps things will change for the better.

And for anyone that wants to see a picture of what an integrated, effective, diverse, and gender-inclusive team that focuses and wins business in cyber security looks like, have a gander at our team at Forrester.

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