International Women’s Day 2019: How can we be better allies?


Every year on March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day to honor the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. But we also acknowledge that there is still a long way to go before we’ve truly reached gender parity. This day gives us the opportunity to reflect on how we can achieve that balance. So it’s particularly fitting that the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Balance for Better”.

Tech, and security in particular, have historically had a particularly skewed gender representation. But we can all play a part in helping to encourage more balance in our industry. In this post we’ll discuss a few things we can all do to ensure that everyone feels welcome.

Seek out and amplify diverse voices

Security opinion can sometimes resemble an echo chamber, with the same thoughts being expressed by the same people, over and over again. We can interrupt this repetition by amplifying people who might not normally get a lot of attention, but who have interesting and fresh things to say. Seek out and listen to the voices of women and non-binary people in tech and security, as well as people from other underrepresented groups. This can be on social media, in articles or posts, for speaking engagements including panels, or within your own company. Find promising people to mentor or sponsor within the community or within your company. Explore the benefits of reverse-mentorship.

Speak out against unhelpful behavior

It’s a well-researched phenomenon that women frequently get interrupted when speaking. This is something everyone can and should be mindful of. If you observe this happening in a group environment, you can redirect the conversation back to the original speaker. For example, you could stop an interruption by saying, “Excuse me, I didn’t get to hear everything she had to say.” Likewise, if a woman makes a suggestion in a meeting that’s shot down or ignored, you can repeat the idea and credit its source. Certain segments of security have historically had an adversarial culture that can swerve into outright hostility. While it can be particularly scary to confront people when this happens, if we ever hope to bridge the ever-expanding talent gap, we need to stand up to people who are being rude or aggressive to others.

Speak up for pay transparency

While it can be difficult in cultures where it’s considered taboo to talk about how much compensation you receive, it can be a very simple and powerful way to help women achieve parity. Having clear metrics for pay ranges can potentially help improve productivity, as well as employee retention and recruitment. For those seeking to hire new employees, establish a pay range for the position before you start recruiting talent. You can either include this information in your job listing, or notify all qualified applicants early in the process.

Advocate for consistent and measurable promotion criteria

Part of the benefit of having established metrics for pay levels is that employees know what they need to do to work towards higher levels of pay. People can document and share their own efforts to meet measurable criteria, rather than relying on someone higher in the company hierarchy noticing their actions and deeming them worthy. This can be helpful for a wide variety of people who might otherwise be passed over promotions, including women.

Model a healthy work/life balance

Women are more likely to have informal caregiving responsibilities outside of work, including caring for children, spouses, friends, or aging parents. Even if you’re not in a position to help out in your own family with caregiving needs, you can help others by modeling a healthy work/life balance when you’re on the job. This can include maintaining good self-care outside of work by regularly taking available vacation time, and only responding to email (that isn’t truly urgent) during your regular work hours. By establishing a culture where it’s “okay” to take personal time, you can make it easier for those who have significant responsibilities outside of work to take the time they need.

There are many effective ways to help balance representation that are not limited to “Diversity and Inclusion” initiatives. Every one of us can take small but meaningful steps to make tech and security a more welcoming place for a wide variety of people. And on March 8, you can join the celebration happening on social networks by checking out #BetterForBalance.

written by Lysa Myers, ESET We Live Security

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