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Continue the Conversation: Gender and Diversity in Information Security and Information Technology

Jan 04, 2017, by Sara Aly
Tags: 2016 Technology Exchange, Gender Diversity Initiative

By Helen Patton, CISO, The Ohio State University

According to recent research conducted by the National Science Foundation (NSF), although women comprise more than half of the U.S. workforce, only 28% are employed in STEM related fields and of that, only 11% are pursuing a career in information security. Similarly, when looking at workplace diversity, minorities represented 29% of STEM related fields, with approximately 6% Hispanic and 8% African American representation in the IT sector.

When asked why women chose to leave the profession or why they might not consider a career in information security and IT, often the answers are as complex as the problem. Some cite stereotyping, organizational culture, and the lack of encouragement and support from management and fellow colleagues. Others cite the lack of guidance from management and uncertainty about their career trajectory.*

(L to R) Theresa Semmens, Helen Patton, Mary
Dunker and Kimberly Milford at the 2016
Technology Exchange in Miami, FL.

Moving forward, my co-panelists and I would like to offer the following guiding principles to anyone interested in supporting gender and diversity initiatives:

Engaging Everyone in the Dialogue: gender discrimination is not just a women's issue – it's a men's issue, too. Similarly, making concerted efforts to challenge the lack of diversity in the workplace should be everyone’s concern. It's important to include both men and women in the conversation and work collectively at solving the gender discrimination and diversity problems in the workplace.

Building a Community of Allies: many of our male colleagues have expressed their desire to put an end to gender discrimination and make real change to improve diversity. There needs to be tools and resources that help our colleagues become allies for women both at work and at home. A good online reference is:

Sharing Success Stories: it's important to move beyond simply presenting the data on gender discrimination in the workplace. In addition to making tools accessible, we must highlight possible solutions and share success stories alongside the data. A good reference for this is the National Center for Women and Information Technology: Another great resource is Dr. Iris Bohnet's book "What Works - Gender Diversity by Design," which makes suggestions on ways we can recruit, hire, develop and promote gender diverse talent.

Inclusive Language: we want to be conscious of how we present the profession through the use of language. We want to avoid using terms and descriptions that may come across as biased, either consciously or unconsciously. We want to ensure the terms and language we use are gender-inclusive.

Commitment to Mentorship: a coach, mentor, or advocate will instill in the person seeking help and advice that they can make a difference and are valued for their contributions. Mentorship forms a support system that enhances a positive experience of growth and development for an individual's career. Research suggests that the most beneficial mentoring is based on mutual learning, active engagement, and striving to push the leadership capabilities of mentees.

Championing Diversity: we need to ensure that everyone who has an interest and desire to break into information security has the opportunity, comfort level and confidence to do so. Diversity in the workplace contributes to an institution's creativity and adds new perspectives to professional conversations. It creates a well-rounded team and allows for more efficiencies, diverse ideas, varied technical skill sets, broader communication forums, and business management skill sets. Women and minorities need champions; those who advocate, support and recognize their efforts and contributions.

Read part two of this blog post. 


*Barriers and Bias: the status of women in leadership by AAUW (March 2016):