March 6, 2018 / 12:46 AM / 2 years ago

Call for more women speakers spurs rival California cyber security conference

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Cyber security professionals from companies including Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc announced on Monday a small alternative to Dell Inc’s [DI.UL] RSA Conference after criticizing the major industry gathering for scheduling just one female keynote speaker.

OUR Security Advocates, or OURSA, said its one-day event with several women speakers would be in San Francisco on April 17, the day after the week-long RSA Conference begins about a mile away.

Sandra Toms, vice president and curator at RSA Conference, said in an interview that critics may see the situation differently once her team finishes unveiling speakers soon. The event drew 43,000 attendees last year.

Diversity is “something we’re all keenly aware of and trying to influence more positively,” Toms said.

But OURSA organizers decided in recent days to launch anyway after deeming the assurance insufficient.

“We need to be at least taking these first initial steps toward greater inclusion,” said Amie Stepanovich, an organizer who manages U.S. policy for digital rights advocacy group Access Now.

OURSA’s move underscores the growing pressure on technology conferences to show that they are not only accommodating to women and minorities, but also that they will feature traditionally underrepresented individuals more prominently.

Fueling the demands are a year of sexual harassment accusations in the industry and stories from the #MeToo social media movement about hardships women suffer in the workplace.

RSA’s keynote lineup had 22 speakers as of Monday including Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern under President Bill Clinton, as the lone female. This year’s list so far also does not include a current U.S. government official.

Activists have targeted RSA before. In 2014, several security experts boycotted and formed an alternative called TrustyCon to protest RSA Security’s work for the National Security Agency.

Dell absorbed RSA and the yearly event through a 2016 acquisition.

Alex Stamos, a TrustyCon organizer who now serves as Facebook’s chief security officer, helped spur OURSA after directing a tweet last week at RSA with names of potential female speakers.

RSA judges the 2,500 submissions it receives for 500 speaking roles based on proposed content, Toms said.

High-profile slots mostly go to sponsors’ top executives, who tend to be men, Toms said. Women fared well in other slots, she said, noting that 20 percent of accepted programming ideas this year came from women though women accounted for just 13 percent of submissions.

Luta Security Chief Executive Katie Moussouris, who had two discussion ideas rejected this year, said she would try to attend both RSA and OURSA to maximize networking.

She said the onus should be on sponsors to “put forward more well-qualified, diverse candidates.”

RSA plans to address broader cultural issues this year by using signage and a keynote video to emphasize that attendees who behave inappropriately toward anyone will be expelled.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Additional reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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