Diversity And The Art Of Cybersecurity | A Live Experts Panel At RSAC | Recap

By Selena Templeton


  • Diana Kelley, Global Executive Security Advisor, IBM


  • Jennifer Steffens, CEO of IOActive, Inc

  • Dug Song, Co-Founder & CEO, Duo Security

  • Ayelet Steinitz, VP of Business Development, Imperva

  • Larry Whiteside Jr., Co-founder & VP, International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals



Cybercriminals don’t shortchange themselves by only using a few people who all think and respond exactly the same, so why do cybersecurity organizations limit themselves in this way? To truly succeed at preventing data breaches and fraud, we need to employ as wide a range of people as possible with a vast range of experiences, perspectives and thinking styles. This esteemed panel of experts sat down to discuss what diversity is, the benefits it brings, and how leaders and organizations can succeed with a more diverse workplace.



Many people still believe that diversity programs in the workplace simply means meeting a predetermined quota of hiring women or people of color regardless of the individual’s qualifications. Diana starts this discussion off by asking the panel what exactly diversity means and why it’s so important. Since we live in a complex digital age in which we’re constantly fighting against an ever-changing adversary from different cultures, ages, genders, upbringings, experiences, etc., it behooves us to fight back with equally wide-ranging forces. Dug relates how having a team with a mix of ideas and experiences is not only representative of their customers, but has allowed them to solve some of their most vexing security challenges.

The panel shares real-life stories of seeing exactly how having a diverse team has helped, and Larry reminds us that when you travel around the world as much as he does, the idea of diversity becomes much more of a non-issue. But with a more diverse workplace comes the challenge of both recognizing and respecting the different communication styles of different cultures, and Ayelet tells a humorous story of a coworker thinking that she was upset when she was just having a friendly phone conversation – in Hebrew.

Diana raised the questions that when we create women-only (or African American-only, etc.) organizations, are we providing a safe space for marginalized groups or are we just further separating “them” from “us”? Larry believes that when you are around others who have gone through similar challenges from whom you can learn, it allows you to feel less alone and more confident. Jennifer thinks that those groups can be helpful as long as you belong to many types of groups, not just women-only ones, so that you challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone. Ayelet questions the contradictory nature of these homogeneous groups: speaking about diversity to a very specific group of similar people can be alienating yourself too much.

The bottom line is that diversity is not just having a Diversity Officer or fine-tuning your hiring practices, and it’s not just the responsibility of the employer – we all have the responsibility to be mindful, inclusive and encouraging in all areas of our lives.



Diversity actually gravitates toward diversity. So if you have a workforce that has representation across different ethnics, different cultures, different genders, ages, that will attract that type of talent as well. And as we all know, hiring is a key aspect of our success.
— Ayelet Steinitz

As we’ve grown globally and have a more diverse team, we’ve actually been able to help our clients bring different perspectives into the room and try to help break down those walls so they can have their teams working together better as well.
— Jennifer Sunshine Steffens

People talk about hiring for cultural fit. I think the challenge with that is you end up not being able to do more than you’ve ever done if you only ever hire for the same kind of skillsets. So we hire for cultural contribution. What are folks bringing to the table? Things that we don’t have. Backgrounds, ideas, experiences that we can actually bring to our business.
— Dug Song

Everybody on the face of the earth … [has] got unconscious bias, and recognizing it is the first step. But I think becoming more personally tied to the people you’re interacting with is one thing that helps knock down those walls and helps get rid of some of those unconscious biases that you have. Because unconscious bias is based on your background and your understanding of people, and you not knowing a person, just looking at the shell … [is] not really fair…. So … as a leader I’ve taken my team out to do team bonding and building and doing things to break down those walls so you get to know the person, you get to know them as a being, you know more about their family, you know more about their upbringing, about their likes, their dislikes, and then it opens you up to seeing them and not just their outer shell.
— Larry Whiteside

At our company we talk about having empathy for our customers and our colleagues. Empathy is not just caring about people, it’s about being able to understand their point of view.
— Dug Song

Watch the video of this panel discussion right here: Diversity and the Art of Cybersecurity | A Live Experts Panel at RSAC and see some of the answers to questions asked offline.