Every year in Scottsdale, Arizona, there’s a unique Information Security conference created by Joyce Brocaglia at ALTA, supported by a who’s who of InfoSec companies like Cisco, RSA, and Symantec, and attended by hundreds of some of the brightest people I’ve ever met. It’s no coincidence that they are all women because this is the Executive Women’s Forum (EWF) and always a highlight of my year.
A special treat for me this year was the presentation by Edna Conway, CISO for Cisco System’s supply chain and, as it turns out, a brilliant and inspiring woman.
A few weeks earlier, after reading that Edna was to be a keynote speaker at the event, I sent her an email just to introduce myself, say “hello,” and let her know that I looked forward to hearing her presentation. Not what I expected, Edna responded with a warm welcome for me to Cisco (yup—I’m a Cisco newbie after almost 30 years with HP!) and said that she was looking forward to getting some help from me on her current focus: securing Cisco’s supply chain. Great! Love to help, let’s keep in touch. However, when she presented to the EWF audience the strategy that she’d already developed and implemented, I was humbled by what an amazingly thorough job she’d done. The other women in the audience recognized the value in her strategy as well, as they lined up to speak with her after her address, and to ask for her help at their own companies. I saw the undeniable admiration in the eyes of these successful women executives—and those aspiring to be successful women executives—and something remarkable occurred to me.
Aside from the brilliant logistics of her supply chain security strategy, I was really inspired by the woman herself. I mean really: MIT, Stanford, Columbia, and a law degree? Impressive. As Edna was revving up the crowd with her also brilliant wit—seriously, the lady is a real hoot!—it occurred to me that women in the information security field today are really lacking matriarchs. Where are our Grace Hoppers and the Anita Borgs whom women starting out in the engineering field looked to for guidance and a glimpse of what they, too, could accomplish if they worked hard? Today, young women considering a career in information security need those female pioneers, the ones who can chart the course and clear the path, the ones who just quietly rose to the top of the field despite the glass ceilings, because of their brilliance and hard work, and because they were the smartest people in the room. Who are the matriarchs of InfoSec? Cue Edna Conway.
A comment on Edna’s LinkedIn page says, “Edna is without a doubt one of the most visionary, intelligent and influential leaders for whom I have ever had the pleasure to work.” Ditto. Absolutely, enthusiastically, ditto. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Lead the way, Edna and know that there are a lot of women out there in the InfoSec world watching you with admiration and with renewed hope for what they can become. Thanks for helping to set the course, for your quiet, humble inspiration, and for making this year’s EWF a tremendously motivational and uplifting experience for the next generation of Chief Security Officers. And thanks from me, who finally found my Grace.
Additional resources on women in technology and STEM include:
- Want More Women In IT? Here’s How To Make That Happen. (Huffington Post ImpactX, sponsored by Cisco)
- Anita Borg Institute
- Alta Associates Executive Women’s Forum