Fearless Security Blog

Defcon Redux or Hacking the Gender Gap

It’s that time again, time to do my annual post about Defcon/Blackhat, the infosec’s industry grand balls of balls, held every year in late July in Las Vegas.  A conversation with cabbie (some of the best places for article ideas) brought up an interesting point.  Being a female cabbie (by definition a gender pioneer), she was asking about the Defcon conference  and why there weren’t more females attending. I’ve been attending it for years and have been heartened to see a steadily growing percentage of the population of the show being female.  Back in the “good ole days”, meaning  7-8 years ago, it would have been rare to see a girl there and even then, it was probably the girlfriend of a hacker.  Nowadays, the mix is probably 80/20 boys to girls.  And most of them are obviously there to participate, not just as hanger-oners.   However, as a comparison to the overall population, those numbers suck.    Now, Defcon has evolved from a really edgy informal gathering where anarchists with mohawks would mix with NSA spook types to a more respectably edgy, but comfortably legal conference  of really smart people who like figuring out how things work (and sometimes breaking them).  It’s sort of where the grown up techie boys go to be boys again for a few days and do technical things that they don’t get paid to do and sometimes have no point other than the challenge.   So to me, the population represents a gathering of really sharp minds who will be inventing great things and making innovations in the infosec industry and elsewhere.  But where are all the smart hacker girls?   Are they just in other industries, perhaps innovating the latest runway fashions or whipping up crazy culinary concoctions?   I don’t know how many more Iron Chefs or America ‘s Next Supermodels we need but I know we need great technical minds to keep America secure and great.   This brought up another related topic; that of the race mix.  Once again, white pasty males dominated the show.   The numbers of non –white races has grown over the years but it’s nowhere the natural mix in the population.  And as whites become a minority over the next few years, so should the percentage of talent we are bringing to the hacker mind party.  This speaks to a comment made by a speaker on the “Meet the Fed” panel.  He talked of how we went to the moon in ten years under President Kennedy’s famous charge.  One of the reasons  we were able to make good on his promise was that he dedicated significant resources to STEM education.  That stands for Science Technology Engineering and Math.    Nowadays, we can’t get to the moon in twenty years, using technology a million times better than what they had in the 60s.  We need that same push from our leaders today, with focus on females and minorities to get our best and brightest doing what they are best at, not watching American Idol or hoping to make it in the NBA.  If we don’t, the next iPhone will not only be manufactured in China but also conceived and designed there.   Maybe some of the great minds at the conferences can have a session on how to hack that problem next year, rather than drawing pictures of fantasy sexy girl hackers for the program cover.

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