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White Hat Security CEO: Lack of women in tech “has to be focused on”

To its considerable detriment, technology is still a man’s world. Notable women in tech are outnumbered drastically by their male counterparts, and all too often the female contribution at key events is reduced to a glamorous celebrity outsider offering hollow, scripted endorsements of products they likely care little about - see recent acts from Jessica Alba at Windows Phone 8 and Alicia Keys for BlackBerry 10.

Whittle the broader technology scene down to IT security, and the gender imbalance is even more profound. Female executives were typically scarce at one of the industry’s flagship shows, Infosecurity Europe, last week; so having chewed the fat over the latest security trends and the rise of her own company, ITProPortal asked White Hat Security CEO Stephanie Fohn how she feels representing a minority in the sector.

“I don’t know if I consciously feel a sense of responsibility but it’s certainly important to me to mentor other women in the industry - and women entrepreneurs in general - because I’m an entrepreneur first and foremost,” she said.

Fohn plainly acknowledged that the technology industry does not offer an even playing field when it comes to opportunities for women, something that is evident from the highest level downwards.

“Even in the [Silicon] Valley there are not nearly as many women CEOs as perhaps there should be… Whether or not people take direct action to address it, it will still evolve over time. There are groups in Silicon Valley who are actively looking to see if we can fund more women entrepreneurs.”

The White Hat CEO said unity and collaboration among woman was vital to their progression, citing a number of projects she worked on that were advancing the female cause in technology.

“There is a group of women in the States and we come together and meet to discuss issues in the industry. There’s women CISOs (chief information security officers) as well as women on the vendor side like myself, and we do what we can to network with other women and help bring out women in the industry.

“I’m also involved with an organisation called Mentornet, and they focus on women and girls in high school and college doing science and technology and helping more girls move into those areas. We have to start in the very beginning - in education - helping girls understand that science, maths and engineering are fun and interesting.”

Due to the “complexity of the problem,” Fohn admitted the journey to gender parity would be a long one for her and her peers, but argued that changing mentalities from a young age would help bring the shift. “It’s about perception and it’s something that has to be focused on every step of the way,” she said.

Fohn was one of the many experts and execs ITProPortal probed at Infosec 2013 last week, and video highlights of some of the best interviews can now be enjoyed alongside other news and analysis from Earls Court in our security section.