Industry Observations

Diversity in Tech: Why I Wear Comfortable Shoes

A colleague of mine sent me this article from The Atlantic, called Why is Silicon Valley so Awful to Women. It wasn’t a female colleague either; it was from one of our male engineers over in the Threat Research Center.

The accompanying note touched me deeply. He said he had heard me talking about our upcoming Growing the Ranks of Women in AppSec webinar, and saw the webinar links, and had his own story to share (keep an eye on our Blog page for his inspirational story about overcoming challenges at work.)

My colleague was right – The Atlantic published a great article, and here’s why I love it: We are finally talking in the right circles about the challenges of overcoming bias, of unrecognized privilege in the world. And this points out that it’s not an easy or quick problem to solve. It takes dedication, and an investment at the highest level of a company. It takes changing the practices from HR out in terms of how incoming resumes are evaluated, how interviews are conducted, and so much more. And the author acknowledges that it’s not going to be a quick change. 

Truth is, a lot of my coworkers have rallied around this subject and emailed me their favorite “This is the Challenge for Women”-type articles. One even had a survey with some women denying that they’d ever experienced bias, never experienced any kind of glass ceiling; they thought all that was over. How did I reconcile these apparently incompatible ideas? How do I explain it?

A New York Times writer (one of whom has a grant to research the science of extremism) published Why We Believe Obvious Untruths, which talks about shared knowledge and shared experiences as opposed to an individual understanding. How matters are appealed to as “Everyone knows” in both judgement and concepts. One extremely confident female friend of mine sees people hailing her as she walks down the street as just being friendly. It’s okay to hug everyone for her. When I pointed out that the same guys offering to hug her do NOT hug one another, she got quiet and said she needed to think about it.

I can only say what I know, and what I observe. I had a gal I worked with a few years ago look at my comfortable sports shoes and express envy. She was wearing traditional black heels and a skirt, and wondered how I got away with sneakers?

In 2015 RSA laid down the law outlawing “booth bunnies/babes” at their big San Francisco convention; Casual to Business dress is more appropriate than the stripper heels and short skirts I used to see trying to lure people into booths. It made me wince for years, the idea that sex was being used to sell security products and software. Thanks, RSA, for curtailing that!

I’ve gotten away with not wearing heels because I’m selling brains, and I can do that in comfortable shoes. I can walk into a room, stand in front of a lot of people, and hold their attention because it is a SKILL I practiced. I don’t have to smile prettily – there’s topics I lecture about which just don’t go with a smile.

I still get nervous. I try to avoid shaking hands immediately after a large presentation because sometimes my hands are cold and clammy. But I LOOK confident and comfortable, and that’s something a lot of gals don’t have in their toolbox. Plus my feet hurt in heels.

See you all (virtually) on March 23!

Tags: Education, whitehat security