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  • Gender balance still lagging in STEM related fields 
  • Tech Exchange indicates Internet2 continues to champion diversity
  • Conference panel offers six principles for promoting equality 

With Internet2's kind permission, we reprint Helen Patton's overview of a panel discussion she was party to at the 2016 Internet2 Technology Exchange in Miami.

According to recent research conducted by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), although women comprise more than half of the U.S. workforce, only 28 percent are employed in STEM related fields and of that, only 11 percent are pursuing a career in information security.

Similarly, when looking at workplace diversity, minorities represented 29 percent of STEM related fields, with approximately 6 percent Hispanic and 8 percent African-American representation in the IT sector.

<strong>Leading ladies. </strong> Participants in a gender and diversity panel at the Internet2 Technology Exchange. From left, Theresa Semmens, Helen Patton, Mary Dunker, and Kimberly Milford. Courtesy Internet2.

When asked why women chose to leave the profession or why they might not consider a career in information security and IT, often the answers are as complex as the problem.

Some cite stereotyping, organizational culture, and the lack of encouragement and support from management and fellow colleagues. Others cite the lack of guidance from management and uncertainty about their career trajectory.

Moving forward, my co-panelists and I offer the following guiding principles to anyone interested in supporting gender and diversity initiatives.

Engaging everyone in the dialogue

Gender discrimination is not just a women's issue – it's a men's issue, too. Similarly, making concerted efforts to challenge the lack of diversity in the workplace should be everyone’s concern. It's important to include both men and women in the conversation and work collectively at solving the gender discrimination and diversity problems in the workplace.

Building a community of allies

Many of our male colleagues have expressed their desire to put an end to gender discrimination and make real change to improve diversity. There needs to be tools and resources, such as this one about male allies, that help our colleagues become allies for women both at work and at home. 

Sharing success stories

It's important to move beyond simply presenting the data on gender discrimination in the workplace. In addition to making tools accessible, we must highlight possible solutions and share success stories alongside the data.

Target practices. Building on insights from behavioral economics, Iris Bohnet argues that to overcome gender bias in organizations and society, we should focus on de-biasing systems — how we evaluate performance, hire, promote, structure tests, form groups — rather than on trying to de-bias people.

A good reference for this is the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT).

Another great resource is Iris Bohnet's book What Works - Gender Diversity by Design, in which she suggests ways we can recruit, hire, develop, and promote gender diverse talent.

Inclusive language

We want to be conscious of how we present the profession through the use of language. We want to avoid using terms and descriptions that may come across as biased, either consciously or unconsciously. We want to ensure the terms and language we use are gender-inclusive.

Commitment to mentorship

A coach, mentor, or advocate will instill in the person seeking help and advice the idea that they can make a difference and are valued for their contributions. Mentorship forms a support system that enhances a positive experience of growth and development for an individual's career.

Research suggests that the most beneficial mentoring is based on mutual learning, active engagement, and striving to push the leadership capabilities of mentees.

Championing diversity 

We need to ensure that everyone who has an interest and desire to break into information security has the opportunity, comfort level, and confidence to do so.

Diversity in the workplace contributes to an institution's creativity and adds new perspectives to professional conversations. It creates a well-rounded team and allows for more efficiencies, diverse ideas, varied technical skill sets, broader communication forums, and business management skill sets.

Women and minorities need champions; those who advocate, support, and recognize their efforts and contributions.

Read Helen Patton's original blog article here

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