It seems that we have been talking about the challenge of there not being enough women in security for as long as I, a man, have been in security.
In fact I dare to think that the conversation has been going on longer, and yet there still doesn’t seem to be any resolution. This is despite me getting to know some excellent women in security, such as Rowenna Fielding from the Charities Security Forum, Neira Jones, ISACA’s Sue Milton and this week, Bletchley Park veteran Betty Webb.
Research this week from McAfee revealed that of a survey of 4,000 adults, 72 per cent did not recognise the female CEOs of Google, Yahoo, Lastminute.com and Microsoft, while 77 per cent of UK women had not heard of any high-profile women in IT.
There has been some excellent journalism done on women in IT security, to name some by Sara Peters for Dark Reading, by Eleanor Dallaway for Infosecurity Magazine and this week by Derek Du Preez for Diginomica. But these are not solving the issue, and what we need is proper ways forward.
I recently attended the Women’s Security Society for the first time, and while the event was held under Chatham House rules, what I did see was a room full of women in security (hence the title I guess) and all being treated as equals. One senior security person I spoke to at the event said she was glad that men were being invited into the event, I agreed that in order for equality to be achieved, women needed to be raised up rather than men being brought down.
This week I also saw more of what women in security had achieved, visiting the historic and refurbished Bletchley Park, where women accounted for 75 per cent of the nearly 10,000 people who worked at the site deciphering and decoding encrypted messages and ciphers.
At the press event, co-hosted by McAfee this week, Bletchley Park chairman Sir John Scarlett said that the role of women in technology was exemplified by Bletchley, as they did “crucial work on Engima and role they played was invaluable”. He also made the point that at the reopening, the Duchess of Cambridge met ten veterans and all of them were women.
One veteran was Betty Webb, who told me that she worked at the park from September 1941 to May 1945. “It was my first experience of working for somebody and I never knew what was going on beyond my own office as none of us did. The heirachy did but people like myself did not not know until many years later,” she said.
“I knew there were a lot of people here, but the function of Bletchley Park consisted of receiving messages from throughout the world, which came here in Morse code and had to be registered. The code had to be broken and translated from German, Italian or Japanese and passed to transcribers to be accurate, and then sent to senior people to decide to send the messages to Winston Churchill or to the field.”
In a presentation to the press, Betty said that 75 per cent of the staff at Bletchley were women, and she often talks to schools to make the future women in technology aware of the opportunities. “I try and tell people that posts are a
vailable and they want you, and I talk to schools much more and I mention the need for women in cyber security. When we were here we were told women couldn’t be code breakers and it was proved quite wrong.”
Asked how to get more women involved, she said: “It has got to be about education obviously, and think perhaps come to Bletchley Park! I was talking in Worcester recently, and they wanted to come and were told it was fully booked until September 2015!”
Also speaking at the event was Natalie Black, deputy director of cyber defence and incident management at the Cabinet Office, who said that she was aware of the shortage of there not being enough women, and she was working with the Women’s Security Society and the Women In Security group also to promote cyber careers and there were “encouraging signs”, particularly from the Cyber Security Challenge.
Black said that there was a need for more collaboration, I would argue that there is a troubled line to walk down in this topic. Yes there are some excellent people who happen to be women, and do they need to be raised up or treated as equals? History proves that women are not just leaders, but enablers – and in this industry of white men, there has never been anything more welcome than a break from the norm.