The SC Blog

Women in cyber-security? Only when it suits us

Security company decided to host a LinkedIn competition, and it all went horribly wrong.

And we still haven't found out how many USB keys that jar contained!
And we still haven't found out how many USB keys that jar contained!

By now, we're all well aware, the cyber-security and tech industries are suffering from a diversity problem. A study by ISC(2) has shown that women currently make up only 10 percent of the cyber-security workforce.

And to make matters worse, the figure was the same as the year before, and had reduced from the year before that, despite the growing demand for more cyber-security professionals.

Fortunately many organisations are trying to turn this around. Many have pledged to attract female talent into the industry and provide training and opportunities to ensure it stays there.

Something happened recently, however, which made me question: are women really welcome in the industry, or are we just paying a lip service?

Foursys, a Bury St. Edmunds-based security firm, recently launched a competition on its LinkedIn company page which would see the winner receive a handsome bottle of Champagne and a Foursys goodie bag which the company described as one which “money can't buy”.

All that, for the price of having to guess how many USB sticks a glass jar contained.

As Foursys' managing director James Miller said in a blog post on its company website, it was a bit of innocuous Friday afternoon fun.

However, what ensued was not a group of excited Champagne drinkers.

Rather, an angry vitriolic horde of vile abuse was thrown at Jayde, Foursys' account manager who was running the campaign. The issue was Jayde's appearance.

And this struck me as being very weird. The thing which seemed to anger people was, to be blunt, the fact that Jayde has large breasts.

One comment read, “Another office lizard with fake breasts trying to pose as a so-called “expert”....The only thing she is an expert on is silicon implants...LOL.”  Other comments were far worse.

Jayde had decided to wear a top which some deemed overly revealing.. Big deal, right?!

You'd think that for a ‘serious' industry which is facing a myriad of issues, such as the rising threat of ransomware and cyber-crime, the least of our concerns would be what Jayde was wearing.

And not all the critics were sexist males. Another woman also found her clothing inappropriate and detrimental to the cause of women in cyber security being taken seriously. Jane Wainwright, a director who works for PWC's Data Protection and Cyber Security practice, who also happens to be a prominent campaigner for women-in-cyber-security issues, commented on Jayde's video: “You have made me think about going into the office dressed like I am on a girls weekend in Ibiza. You are absolutely right, we should wear whatever we want with no limits or boundaries as it's our cyber-brain we are employed for and it shouldn't be overshadowed by exposing 75 percent of our body in the workplace. Thanks for flying the flag for women in Cyber and in no way making a mockery out of a real diversity issue.”

Jayde responded to the negative comments and said in a video that: "For all of those who say that I know nothing about IT security: Shame on you. I know more than 99 percent of people you'd meet on the street. I can tell you what a denial-of-service attack is, how SQL injection works, and how to your protect against ransomware. To be perfectly clear:

Bullying and shaming people because of the way that they look or how they choose to dress is nasty, and I am not just going to take it - and neither should you."

This is where you should picture me clapping vigorously.

I am blown away by the fact that in such troubling times for our industry, something like this could happen. Not to mention the fact that it was happening on LinkedIn which shows the real names, jobs and places of employment of those passing judgement.

The industry clearly needs to do some growing-up. We need to stop thinking that women can be treated in such an appalling way. She is good at her job - and that's all that matters - assuming this wasn't just some kind of publicity stunt of course.

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