NewsOctober 30, 2017 @ 7:35 AM

IBM Scholarship Boosts Female Attendance at Hacker Halted Conference

If you have ever attended an IT conference, you probably noticed that there were not many women in attendance. That was not the case at the Hacker Halted security conference held in Atlanta earlier this month.

Just by walking through the halls of the conference site, I noticed a distinct difference in the attendees: Women were everywhere. This may have been due to IBM’s sponsorship of the conference fees for all women who wanted to attend. If the registration numbers are any indication, this scholarship had a significant impact: Of the 1,200 people who registered for the conference, 460 were women using the IBM scholarship.

Since women make up only 11 percent of the security industry, seeing this notably higher ratio of women at Hacker Halted gives me hope for what the future might look like if these efforts continue.

IBM Promotes Inclusion at Hacker Halted 2017

Throughout my time at Hacker Halted, my colleagues and I provided insights into IBM’s recruiting and cognitive programs. We demonstrated Project Havyn, our virtual assistant powered by Watson. We also evangelized IBM’s initiative to hire 2,000 veterans by 2020, touted the Early Professionals program and talked about opportunities for new collar jobs, which emphasize experience and skills over degrees alone.

We had a steady stream of people interested in discussing these topics with us at the booth, but we didn’t account for the number of women who would come up to thank us for IBM’s generosity in providing the registration fee sponsorships. At a time when many companies fail to promote educational opportunities for their employees at this scale, IBM stepped up to expose women to career possibilities in cybersecurity.

Diversity in technology is essential. Technology not only affects how we work, but every part of our lives — from communication to education, entertainment, travel and even grocery shopping. If mostly men are contributing to the development of new technology, we are missing the perspective of a huge demographic. The female perspective is significant. IBM is doing its job to increase awareness and opportunities for women in cybersecurity, but it will take a shift in the industry to truly impact the statistics.

Opening Doors for Diversity in Security

I have worked in the security industry for 13 of my 20 years in IT, and in my experience, women have always been outnumbered by men. However, I have noticed a trickle, albeit a slow one, of more women entering STEM-related careers.

Although it may take a while, I believe that as awareness increases, more and more women will enter the IT and cybersecurity industries. We are making great strides toward attracting women to pursue security careers. Companies across the industry and educators throughout the world must continue to step up, open doors for a more inclusive workforce and drive awareness about security careers among people of all backgrounds. I look forward to the day when women play an even bigger role in this industry.

 

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Michelle J. Rivers

Project Manager, IBM Security

Michelle is an IT Project Manager in IBM's Security Division. As a project manager for complex, global and cross-functional project and project teams, she strives to give the developers and architects space and freedom to work while removing their blockers and keeping their project on track, on budget, and within scope. She currently manages the Cognitive Program for the Manged Security Services Strategy and Transformation team. This group is in the midst of creating innovative technology that will accelerate IBM's standing as a leader in the security marketplace. In addition to this exciting work, she enjoys leading and participating in programs that provide awareness of career opportunities in Security to women.