Best of the best, or the best of the rest . . . ?

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May I be honest without being vilified? I’ll just come out and say it. . . .

For those of you asking if this is a personal dig — to answer that, no, no it is not. I simply want more for you.

To put the opposite view and balance the argument, my friend and industry colleague Chani, an award winning information security professional, was meant to co-write this with me. Due to the recent tragedies that occurred in Sri Lanka, she is of course busy with way more important things. I’ll look forward to reading her side of this argument in an article, at a less personally harrowing time for her.

It’s important for women to be seen in the industry, in order to attract more women and girls. It’s important for women to be recognized for their achievements despite there being so few of us. And it matters that women, as a minority in cyber security are heard.

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It has long been proven that men’s physical strength, bone and muscle composition, build and stamina differ significantly to that of a woman’s. Because of this, common sense prevails to segregate men’s and women’s sports. This makes sense, if a 5ft, 11 stone woman were to participate in a mix gendered rugby game, she’d probably die of a brain hemorrhage. That’s even if she was ever able to get her hands on the ball, and subsequently get pummeled for it. Due to this, segregation of the sexes in sports is perfectly justifiable. And to have awards that reflect this makes perfect sense. However . . .

Being a woman is NOT a handicap, nor is it a limiting factor in intellect. Awarding women for being women implies overcoming a disadvantage. We can argue that being a woman is, in a lot of ways an actual disadvantage.Women are mistreated in the name of religion, politics, medicine, media, cultural norms and societal norms. There are more people in slavery than EVER before, “71% of overall victims of modern slavery — nearly 30 million — are estimated to be women and girls.” (antislavery.org 2019). So of course we must have women’s awards around the globe because women are fighting a mammoth fight, and that needs and deserves recognition. In cyber security however, I do not see how this is in the least bit applicable.

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I like to think the doors are open to us, and future women. My experience is that they are. If cyber security wants to attract and retain more women then I have an idea! Don’t give women backhanded prizes for literally doing their job. If someone is exceptional, or goes above and beyond the call of duty then reward them. Who wants to be the world’s best 100m sprinter out of 3 overweight goblins, isn’t there more integrity in just wanting to be the world’s best sprinter!

I want it known that I respect my female industry colleagues for accepting these awards, I just want more for them. Many awards are for the politically astute, but many are also warranted. I’d really like to see more women being put forward for talent and skill based awards. Being reduced to your anatomy, pitted against only 9% of your industry is not enough. We’re not demanding enough as a conglomerate of individuals.

An award for someone who proactively encourages diversity, and promotes women in cyber is a justifiable award….but again, that’s not a woman’s award. My friend Stephen has done more for women in cyber security than most of the people I meet in industry. shouldn’t he be eligible for such an award? Kevin of JustEat took a leap of faith and gave LLHS their first hosting space, with food and drinks, despite us having no previous track record. If that’s not proactively making space for women in cyber then I really don’t know what is.

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I find it all very confusing that we as women have striven since we were given PERMISSION to join the workplace to be considered, respected and communicated with based not on our bodies but our minds. By awarding professionals on their anatomy aren’t we in a roundabout way disrespecting these efforts of other women?

In my opinion there is a fundamental difference between creating comfortable spaces for women, that address women’s needs and rewarding women for existing in a largely male space.

When I start work at a new place, or studies on a new course I’ve mostly been the only female. I’ve had comments like “” and “” . . . not said in a particularly intentionally abrasive way but it shows the seeds of doubt in people’s minds. I’d rather we tackle this by making female technologists the norm.

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Questioning women in cyber awards automatically triggers a heated debate. I’d like to start a conversation about the actual perceived benefit they bring to our industry. It seems a lot of people feel scared to publicly question their worth. Sometimes it takes a member of a minority group to breach the difficult questions about their own community.

What are your thoughts? Please comment or troll me below, either side of the debate is eternally welcome.

CEO & Co-Founder at th4ts3cur1ty.company & PocketSIEM. Founder and Director of Ladies Hacking Society | Purple teaming enthusiast @Eliza_MayAustin

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