Let’s Talk About Gender
It’s been 108 Years of International Women’s Day. How Far Have We Come?
The early 1900s were turbulent times in the industrialised world. Population and radical ideologies were booming, and so was women’s unrest regarding gender injustice. In 1910, representatives of women’s unions, socialist parties, and women’s clubs from 17 countries gathered in Copenhagen and came up with the idea to hold an annual International Women’s Day (IWD) to press against gender discrimination worldwide. Women wanted better working conditions and the right to vote, receive training, and hold public office. Meanwhile, the urgency of their situation was made increasingly evident by tragic episodes of oppression – such as the ‘Triangle Fire’ in New York when, just one week after the first IWD “celebration”, the owner of a textile manufacturer locked 129 workers objecting against substandard work conditions inside his factory and set the building on fire. They were all women, and they all died.
108 International Women’s Days later, we’ve come a long way. But gender balance in the workplace is still an ambition. On 2019’s IWD week, I spoke with cyber security expert Loredana Mancini, Vice-Chair of Women in Application Security (WIA) and an advocate for the cause within her industry. “There is still room for improvement,” she says.
“I’ve worked in the industry for over 25 years, during which I’ve been through many different roles and companies, international and local. So I’ve had the pleasure and opportunity to see solutions, technologies and work environments from many perspectives. What I’ve noticed through all of them is that the percentage of women in this industry is remarkably low if you exclude parallel roles such as HR and marketing,” Loredana tells me.
Increasingly curious about the lack of women around her at work, Loredana took action to increase awareness about industry opportunities amongst young women by partnering with schools and volunteering at OWASP – the not-for-profit Open Web Application Security Project helping organisations and individuals make informed decisions about software security.
“A couple of years ago, a committee was born inside OWASP out of women’s desire to unite more women from all over the world, with expertise in different areas of cyber security, to share knowledge and help each other,” she narrates, referring to WIA– the Women In Application Security Committee which she runs alongside Zoe Braiterman (Chair), Vandana Verma (Secretary) and Geeta Handa (Treasurer).
WIA has three main goals: to create a community where women can speak freely about their interests in cyber security; to provide a safe platform for women to offer and/or receive professional mentorship; and to train women who are new to the industry.
The Committee’s ultimate objective is to encourage women to not only join the workforce armed with expertise, but also to empower them to speak up and actively contribute to the application security community. After all, cyber security faces at least two gender problems: a gender gap keeping women outside the industry, and the mistreatment of women inside the industry.
One way to address that, Loredana explains, is by matching cybersecurity qualifications with developed leadership skills. She describes WIA’s initiatives as double-opportunities: “WIA’s projects are great for technical knowledge, but also for those sharing their expertise to develop other abilities, such as speaking in public, crafting engaging presentations, and building self-confidence to assert themselves as experts in their field. Many women are highly skilled but lack confidence to speak up.”
As Loredana prepares for the first Italian WIA presence gathering to be held in Rome on March 26th, Rome prepares to celebrate another Festa Della Donna on March 8th, when the city becomes yellow with mimosa flowers. While some celebrate it, others ignore it, and others remain faithful to the occasion’s serious feminist roots. But the fact that IWD stands strong in 2019 is in itself remarkable. To me, it indicates the still prevalent need to strengthen and accelerate gender parity around the world– whatever that might look like globally, at a local level, and in the cyber security industry. One can only hope that, with efforts such as the WIA’s, and with memories from 1911 still freshly ingrained in our minds, the occasion will be increasingly marked by celebration and flowers, rather than by the need for advocacy.
Loredana is a Steering Committee member of ItaliaSec, the annual cyber security summit for senior security professionals in the Italian Banking & Finance, Manufacturing, Utilities and Retail industries. Request a brochure to see what’s in store for this year’s summit or, better yet, secure your 2-day all-inclusive conference pass with a €200 discount before the 17th of March and meet them in person this May in Rome.