International Women's Day 2021: Debra Danielson, Digital Guardian

This is part of a running series for #IWD2021. We sat down with women leaders across the industry to get their insights on the state of women in cybersecurity. Recognize Women Leaders in the 2021 Tech Ascension Awards. Debra Danielson, CTO at Massachusetts-based Digital Guardian:


"I’ve been very involved in efforts to increase the participation of women in tech for more than 15 years, and while there have been some successes, we haven’t made enough progress. When it comes to increasing diversity in the industry, it’s still largely male and white. Women and minorities are either not choosing the field or are not staying in the field. Women make up between 11 and 20 percent of the global cybersecurity workforce, suggesting some progress is being made, but women are still paid less, promoted less, and hired less. The research out there is massive, and frankly, sometimes overwhelming.

It’s hard to carry both the weight of the job and the weight of damaging the chances of other women if you fail. We aren’t there until we stop using “woman” as an adjective in business. I’m not a “woman” CTO. I’m a CTO. Not a “woman” distinguished engineer. I’m a distinguished engineer. I’m not a “woman” in tech. I’m in tech.

So, what can companies do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology? First, stop and take a hard look at your numbers. Create a framework identifying established biases backed by empirical science. Shine a light on them so that when subtle (or not so subtle) bias behavior is exhibited it can be called out. Enroll men in the calling out process too. Some of the greatest proponents for increasing the participation and success of women in tech have been men. Fathers can be deeply committed allies, as they work to ensure that their daughters get a fair shot at the success they’ve had.

We all have biases, and these societal gender roles are deeply, deeply ingrained into all of us. It’s not just men that discriminate (consciously or unconsciously) against women. Women do it too. Think about how you change the system to balance the bias. Be really clear that this isn’t giving a “leg up” to a less deserving woman (to the disadvantage of a man), but it is a way to level the field and flatten the “leg down”.

Ultimately, stop thinking that there’s something wrong with women that have to be fixed. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard that we need to “teach” women how to negotiate, how to speak up/interrupt, how to get a seat at the table, how to ask for the promotion, how to be more assertive… if you have a system that penalizes women for negotiating, then don’t try and tell them that they’re underpaid because they didn’t negotiate."


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