December 01, 2010, 1:59 PM — In the second decade of the 21st Century, it's easy to think that career success no longer hinges on gender and race. But Marisa Fagan knows what it's like to be a woman in the security industry, and it's not the utopia of equality some people might expect.
To succeed in security, Fagan says she's had to make some tough choices that men are rarely faced with. For a good example of this, she points to a recent column in the Cranky Product Manager blog about women having to deal with a " frat-house culture."
"The article makes the point that technology jobs require intensely long hours and it's just more likely that a man can maintain that schedule, and therefore a manager wants to hire more men," Fagan says.
"I personally feel the effects of this dilemma every day as I choose work or travel or conferences over building more aspects of family life. Everyone must make sacrifices to get ahead. I won't venture to say why more men choose this particular sacrifice than women."
She has also discovered, to her discomfort, that the security conferences she attends are overwhelmingly dominated by men.
"When I go to a conference, I more often than not find myself to be the only woman in the room," she says. "There can be uncomfortable moments when one is the only woman in the group out at the bar afterwards as well. There is always a balancing act in the back of my mind between not wanting to miss out on the valuable relationships being formed in the 'hallway track'or at the bar, and not wanting to put myself in an untoward situation. Although, I don't think issues such as these would lessen if there were more women in security. It's just human nature to battle with professionalism."
As conference organizer for BayThreat, Fagan was initially concerned that she'd be tempted to choose women's talk proposals purely out of a desire to get some variety in the lineup. To her relief, the talks coming from women in the security industry were some of the best out there, making her decisions a little easier.
"There seems to be a culling that happens much earlier in a woman's life, such that if you've made it this far to be considering speaking, you're incredibly smart," she says.
"Researchers say that the problem of low numbers of women in technology happens in high school. I completely agree. I was one of the lucky few women to be acknowledged in the security community at age 15, and there has never been any doubt in my mind of what I would do with my life since," Fagan says.