RSA Conference has detailed new efforts to promote diversity and inclusion following controversy around the conference earlier this year.
The 2018 RSA Conference faced criticism after it announced its initial keynote speaker lineup that included only one female speaker, cyberbullying activist Monica Lewinski. The conference then adjusted the lineup to include more women, but it still received negative attention.
RSA Conference earlier this month announced a new diversity and inclusion initiative. The conference split its efforts into four categories: governance, experience, programming and investment. These feature changes such as a new advisory board, a safe walk program coordinated in cooperation with the San Francisco police department, the abolishment of all-male panels and a youth STEM program to encourage students to get involved in cybersecurity.
In addition, RSA Conference has also updated its speaker submission form to encourage a more diverse speaker lineup.
“The form was very harsh,” said Sandra Toms, vice president and curator of RSA Conference. “So, we’ve changed the way we do the call for speakers, changed the language on the form so that people would get it that we value diversity in all of our content programming. If you’re suggesting a panel, think about diversity on your panel. If you’re looking for a co-speaker, again, think about diversity in your co-speaker selection.”
Toms said the language change has made a difference. Last year, 12% of the submissions were women, and this year, 18% of the submissions are from women.
Sandra Tomsvice president and curator, RSA Conference
“Overall, we receive over 2,400 submissions for RSA Conference. So, it’s pretty significant and we’re really proud of that,” Toms said.
The keynote speakers at RSAC are largely speakers from event sponsors — the conference has also received criticism for its “pay to play” model. This year, RSA Conference organizers said they reached out to sponsors to encourage them to send more diverse speakers to the keynote stage.
“Myself and Linda Gray Martin, who is our chief of operations, talked to every single keynote team this year after we received their recommendation of who they wanted to speak,” Toms said. “We talked to them about what diversity meant, and everyone’s gone back to develop a more diverse speaking program for themselves.”
Changing the environment
Along with what RSA Conference hopes will be a more diverse speaker lineup both on the keynote stage and in the sessions, the cybersecurity vendor is rolling out programs to make the conference itself a safer and more accommodating space for everyone.
This includes a secure child care room in or near Moscone Center that will enable parents to come and go from the conference as needed. There will also be a prayer room for attendees and staff, as well as gender-neutral bathrooms.
Toms also mentioned that the city of San Francisco is working with the conference this year to increase patrols on and around the walking paths from the Moscone Center to hotels. Conference organizers are also working on a program for anyone who wants someone to walk them back to their hotel after the conference for added security.
RSA Conference will also be promoting affinity groups that organize meet-ups during the conference to encourage a greater sense of community at the event.
For the investment part of RSA Conference’s diversity and inclusion efforts, the conference is partnering with organizations and schools to get younger generations involved with cybersecurity in order to ease the staffing crisis in the longer run. For instance, the conference is partnering with the Girl Scouts and Cyberjutsu Girls Academy.
While Toms says there’s still more work to do, the diversity and inclusion initiative is a step in the right direction.
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