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Acrylic Ceiling

4:50:00 PM -- Remember Ellen Hancock? Back in the Big '80s, IBM paraded the then-VP of networking in front of the media, offering her as an example of how women had broken the glass ceiling in the high-tech industry.

But nearly 20 years after Ellen's big debut at IBM -- and her subsequent big-chair positions at other firms, including National Semiconductor and Exodus -- not much has changed except Hancock's title. Today, conference speaker rooms are still thick with testosterone, and it's still hard to find any women who hold positions as IT executives, security managers, or researchers. I wasn't able dig up any hard numbers, but in my very unscientific review of the Black Hat speaking agenda, there were only about nine women out of about 150 researchers giving presentations.

So where's the girl power?

The late Commodore Grace M. Hopper, a pioneer in programming who broke into the IT industry long before Hancock, spoke at my college graduation at William & Mary many years ago. Her advice: Think for yourself, do it, apologize later. If more women adopted Gracie's 'tude, would they be better represented in IT and security?

Women have traditionally had a strong presence on the PR side of the industry, and even in the marketing and journalism side (although here in DR editorial, there's just yours truly and our trusty copy editor, Nicole). So why don't more women enter the IT and security fields? Does the industry need to do a better job at attracting women to its ranks, or is the problem that most women just aren't interested?

I rarely ponder my minority status in this industry, it's not healthy. But it really hit me two weeks ago, when one of the hottest tickets at Black Hat was Joanna Rutkowska's presentation on how she hacked the Vista kernel, even though it was the last session on the last day of the conference. Her proof-of-concept demo has gotten a lot of play in the media since then, not to mention the undivided attention of her male researcher peers. (See Hacking the Vista Kernel.)

My first thought when I heard about Joanna's packed-house presentation at Black Hat? You go, girl.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)
  • National Semiconductor Corp. (NYSE: NSM)
  • Black Hat Inc.