back to article Women of Infosec call bullsh*t on RSA's claim it could only find one female speaker

Day one of the annual RSA conference in San Francisco on April 17 will have some competition after a group of female infosec professionals decided to hold their own shindig - titled Our Security Advocates or OURSA - to showcase the work of women in the field. Last week RSA was hammered on social media when its keynote speaker …

  1. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. Denarius Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    well done

    see BS, call it BS and effectively deal with it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: well done

      "only Monica Lewinsky made RSA's agenda"

      Give her a large cigar! Or maybe not if you want to be able to smoke it...

  3. redpawn

    I can't find any either,

    have my ears covered, eyes closed and am shouting "LA LA LA LA LA" over and over again.

  4. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge


    ...RSA's tone-deaf explanation that there weren't that many women in cybersecurity anyway get people riled up enough to take action....

    This is true. There aren't.

    Doesn't mean that you can't find some if you look harder, but I assume that the organisers didn't think that discrimination in favour of one sex was their job, or, indeed, legal...

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      Re: didn't think that discrimination in favour of one sex was their job

      They organised an all male conference (with one non-technical female speaker). Clearly they think discrimination in favour of one sex is their job.

    2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I don't care about the gender of the presenter

        @Anon: "I don't care about the gender of the presenter, I'm only interested in the content and how WELL they can present, preferably without 5000 mentions of their sponsor or flavour of the month tech.

        The focus on gender is getting a bit ridiculous, it's also counter productive as we will never have female dominated events because of this. Yet if we weren't so focused on gender this could well happen in the future.

        I honestly don't think anyone in the infosec community gives a damn whether it's male, female or other presenting, we're only interested in what we can learn from it, which increasingly, it's a lot of new information."

        YES !!!

        1. This post has been deleted by a moderator


      Re: Unfortunately...

      Parisa Tabriz, Amanda Rousseau, Katie Moussouris come to mind. That's in 15 seconds, not that hard to find talent.

  5. alain williams Silver badge

    Can we take gender out of computing

    Let's be completely blind about speakers' irrelevant human attributes: weight, height, skin colour, gender; .... What matters is: do they know their stuff; is it relevant; can they speak in an engaging way ?

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      Re: do they know their stuff; is it relevant;

      And we find that out by only letting men speak?

    2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  6. karlkarl Silver badge

    Very rare to fine a female bin collector.

    Why doesn't the refuse collection industry whine and moan like a bunch of idiots?

    Oh, yeah, its because they have work to do ;)

  7. Adam 52 Silver badge

    included a grand total of one non-male speaker

    This just isn't true. Look at the agenda, it's got Kirstjen Nielsen, April Doss and Candy Alexander. I stopped looking there because the website is such a mess of poor JavaScript.

    The RSA conference has got people from all over the world, from academia, government and industry... a diverse range of experience and skills, and ethnicity and social background.

    From another perspective, if you were going to a security conference would you prefer the panel to be Rivest, Shamir and Diffie, Russinov or Uber's head of PR?

  8. simmondp

    Lets understand how the (RSA) world works

    Unless you are "famous" and you are invited (paid) to do the closing keynote, all the major keynotes are from sponsoring companies that put up MAJOR $$$$$$$$$$$ to get a keynote - the more money the higher up the keynote tree you get (opening keynotes on day one being the most expensive I guess).

    So, don't blame RSA if those companies, populated my MALE CEO's and very senior executives put up a male for the keynote - by all means blame those companies for their lack of diversity at senior levels.

    But do blame RSA for a culture of pursuing only money, and not actually (outside of the cryptographers panel) having keynotes from interesting leaders in their field [Male of Female] high in the keynote agenda.

    Don't think I've been to a keynote session since the "Microsoft - "we've got security religion" back in early 2000's as basically they are all just corporate hype. (and it's mind numbingly boring to sit through them to accidentally stumble on the one that is not).

  9. xor eax eax

    "While women make up only 11 per cent of the IT security industry you wouldn't guess that from most conferences, where queues for the ladies restroom are seldom seen, female headliners are scarcer than hen's teeth and the scent of testosterone can be overpowering. Some are better than others - Enigma being a prime example - and Ensign said she hoped OURSA would be a one-off event."

    That's kind of exactly what I would expect if women make up only 11 per cent of the IT security industry...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > That's kind of exactly what I would expect if women make up only 11 per cent of the IT security industry...

      I think what he means is that you see even less than 10% females in those conferences. Perhaps because they know better than to waste their time in those dumps.

  10. anothercynic Silver badge

    This is a massive problem...

    Aviation has this problem. Infosec has this problem. Computing has this problem.

    I fail to understand why conference organisers fail to find these women in aviation, in STEM, infosec etc... they are out there!

    1. raphidae

      Re: This is a massive problem...

      I fail to see why this is a "massive problem". The exact opposite is the case in garbage collection, child care, oil drilling and practically all of the social sciences.

      And besides that, explain to me what having a vagina brings to the table in terms of the content or quality of a keynote? What exactly *is* the problem?

  11. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    A token male?

    15 speakers, 14 of whom are women

  12. the-it-slayer

    Diversity ≠ Competency

    People whistle blowing the whole diversity thing have to just sit up and look... There's clearly a context and agenda of the whole conference. Most of the keynotes (RSAs conference site is down - not surprising) are CEOs/SVPs/Presidents of top companies. Mostly hard to keep roles and you have to be extremely competent at what you do (sometimes that's debatable but most companies listed are leaders in their industry).

    That doesn't mean women can't do these roles but there aren't many due to the nature of the work involved (most likely). The RSA is highly corporate and picked highly corporate people.

    I'd rather the most competent people who can talk about the subjects they've been asked to cover do it. That doesn't mean RSA or the industry is sexist.


    Wow comments here are special, proves a point and why OURSA happened.

    1. the-it-slayer

      Why are they special?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > Why are they special?

        My dear chap, if you need to ask...

    2. elip

      I agree, increasingly, rationality and reason are becoming more of a special and unique trait among the populace. Especially among the tech bubble crowd... and then there's California.

  14. Bronek Kozicki

    There some good and well-known women security researches

    ... but they do not have the corporate backing to be given the keynote slot - for example, Joanna Rutkowska.

  15. ada

    Stop the bullshit ladies

    Let's be clear. Women can't have it both ways. You can't cry discrimination or whatever flavor of the word when it suits you...and in the same vein say you want a meritocracy because it's race/gender/etc blind. the conference has always had a diversity panel and a women's reception, so El Reg, you should get your facts straight (if I can find this on their website from years past so you can you.). I don't hear anyone taking on Oracle and others, whose paid sponsorship lineup is all men (maybe because Larry will crush you). Seriously, women aren't doing anything for themselves by being hypocrites, and lying to themselves if they think this bullshit shindig where women will gather and bitch and take down other women, is going to do anything. Melanie: what are YOUR motives? I wouldn't be ready to shit on other people when Uber has its own massive diversity issues. Look in the mirror before you cast a stone.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stop the bullshit ladies

      > Let's be clear.

      Yeah let's be.

      To put it *very* simply so we don't write a book here, the goal of the diversity approach is to stop the victims thinking like victims, are it were. It is not about giving them something they haven't already earned themselves.

      You want to provide role models that inspire others to think "oh! so I can also do that" / "oh! so they can also do that".

      In the end it is not the minoritised (sic) group that benefits: it is society at large. Including freeloaders with the time and inclination to complain about these things.

      1. raphidae

        Re: Stop the bullshit ladies

        Do you have any sources for those supposed benefits?

        Because I hear it referenced all the time, but if you dig into it they can't be found. What *can* be found is that quality suffers once gender (and ethnic) quotas are applied (consciously or unconsciously).

        The only diversity that are proven to have positive effects is intellectual diversity (which *may* correlate with other characteristics, but isn't guaranteed to), but looking at how Damore was treated at Google and other such instances this is clearly not a goal that's been set in ICT.

        So I object to the use of the word "diversity", true diversity is clearly not the goal. It's only a very few specific (coincidentally high-paying) fields in which this celebrated "diversity" is supposedly immensely important (because reasons, y'know). But nobody cares about there being no women in garbage collection and "diversity" is suddenly completely unimportant when it concerns fields in which women are the vast majority.

        I call BS on "diversity". This diversity BS reads exactly like a religious person that tries to justify their beliefs with science.

        If you want to believe that making sure there are just as much vaginas as there are penises in high-paying fields because you think it's *morally* wrong to not do so, no matter the costs or negative impact to society, then that's fine of course. But then own it and be honest about the fact that it's an ideological belief and stop deluding yourself (and others) that it's compatible with meritocracy.

        A meritocracy only works when people are treated as individuals and are evaluated by their work and skill set. Someone's genitals, skin colour, sexuality, religion, etc. should not factor in at all.

        And while there's evidence to support that individualism and meritocracy are also positive for society, I'm also happy to simply state that I believe factoring in any characteristics that do not directly influence the (physical or mental) capacity to do the job at hand or otherwise treating people as a group they belong to based on some irrelevant characteristic (collectivism) is immoral and it shouldn't be done, no matter the costs or negative impact to society.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "the scent of testosterone can be overpowering"

    In an IT conference? What is so macho about spending the day sat in front of a monitor?

    That people in conferences behave like right twats (conferences seem to attract them) that's one thing, but those are omega rather than alpha males (and females, where applicable).

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    She had one Job

    Monica headed up the list of oral presenters with an impotence message people kneed cumunicated.

    oh never mind.

    But really, it was insane for them to hire her, when they could have had hilldogy do a presentation on Email Security....

    (I have worked with several great IT woman over the years, and to hire a non tech/disgrace of a person as they did, has gotten them the feed back they deserve)

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    End this madness

    I've experienced academic conferences from various angles - including often being an organiser - and to be clear, I should say it is NEVER a meritocracy for invited speakers. Spurious claims of meritocracy are being used to justify sexist behaviour here.

    We do not compare invited speakers CVs, interview them or make them sit exams. For invited speakers, we do not even accept/reject them according to abstracts of their proposed talk - if things have got as far as an invitation and an abstract, then they are certainly going to speak at the event.

    Rather: we use experience, knowledge, instinct and contacts to come up with a range of possible speakers who we think would do a good job, and overall will cover the topics we aim to cover. Obviously, if you are not a sexist and give this procedure serious thought, the list will be far longer than is actually required and will contain some men and some women. Everyone on this list appears suitable to invite. We have no idea which of them would actually give the best talk on the day, and to pretend we do is deluded. (I have only a little experience of commercial conferences, but also doubt these approach anything like meritocracy in speaker invites.)

    Given this background, to only invite men - perhaps because we saw them do an OK job at some earlier event - is lazy or prejudiced, and sets an apallingly bad example. It also gives an extremely weird atmosphere for the event. I do not want to spend much time in a male-led enclave.

    So: I have stopped attending events where there is an all-male speaker line up, for events of 3 or more speakers. For 2 speakers it could just be a sampling effect. Beyond that - life is too short. Make them suffer my absence - 1 less audience member to boost their report to their funders and perhaps 1 less registration fee. I might email the organisers ahead of time, politely suggesting they modify the line-up.

    Yes, this only addresses one aspect of diversity. But we have to start somewhere.

    And yes, it does trouble me that many steady jobs, some mentioned in these comments already - e.g. refuse collection, electrician, roofer, plumber - are male-dominated. But, rather than give up entirely, I aim to improve gender balance in areas where I can do something about it. Again: we have to start somewhere.

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