Want to Crush Something? Try Starting with the Mythology of the Brogrammer.

Three concrete steps toward the transformation of cybersecurity and infosec that’s already happening.
Blog Post
April 12, 2016

“Want to bro down and crush some code? Klout is hiring.”

So read the social media analytics company’s unfortunate poster ad at a Stanford career fair (which it later said was a joke).

Joke or not, it became just another chapter in the evolving story of “brogrammer” culture: the frat boy norms and behaviors that govern many a tech and startup work environment. The “brogrammer” is a pretty hyped figure these days, but he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So much of the cybersecurity field is steeped in his image, which isn’t a surprise if you think about the combination of military culture and geek culture that makes up cybersecurity — a much more tech-meets-military milieu than your average technology company.

What may be surprising, given how many of us think of men in hoodies when we think of the industry, is that so many cybersecurity and information security companies want to bring more women into the field — in fact they’re desperate for new talent. With the field nowhere near close to having the number of workers it needs in the lucrative fight against cybercrime, cybersecurity companies are eager to fill the gap. They want to deflate brogrammer culture, but aren’t quite sure how.

To help light the way forward, New America’s Women in Cybersecurity Project is building a toolkit for cybersecurity and information security businesses that want to bring more women into their companies. At Cybersecurity for a New America, I talked about three simple, concrete techniques that cybersecurity companies can use to bring more women into the field right now.

1. Start by taking a fresh look at your website and advertising. Pretend you’re your daughter or sister and look at your site and ads with fresh eyes (or better yet — ask a woman in your life to take a look). If you were a woman, would you be excited about approaching your company? Would you feel welcome? As I said at the conference, if it looks like Rambo designed your site, you’re probably not going to have women banging down your door to apply for jobs. And remember, look at the whole site and all of your ads, not just those targeting prospective applicants.

If there are women in top roles at your company, build their public personas. (You can start by connecting them to us — we’ll help.)

2. Are there women in the top ranks of your company? If not, get women in your leadership and on your board, and do it now. Research shows that across fields women and minorities imagine themselves in a field more easily if they see examples of people like them in leadership positions. If there are women in top roles at your company, build their public personas. (You can start by connecting them to us — we’ll help.) Some companies are doing this very well. FireEye, for one, has a roster of dynamic female leaders that’s often in the public eye, and that draws women to the company because they feel more welcome.

3. Finally, get a sense of your employees’ overwork. At Cybersecurity for a New America, we heard from my colleague Elizabeth Weingarten of New America’s Better Life Lab about the effects of overwork on employees and companies’ bottom lines. Burnout has an especially large impact on women and millennials. If your employees are regularly working late nights, assess whether that extra time is worth burnout and turnover.

These three ideas are just a starting point for cybersecurity companies to learn how to bring more women into their workforces and help them thrive. The infosec and cybersecurity field is on the cusp of dramatically changing the way women perceive the field and the way they experience it. Let’s kick the effort into high gear.

Megan E. Garcia is is Senior Fellow & Director of New America CA. She leads New America’s Women in Cybersecurity Project.

This post is part of Humans of Cybersecurity, a dedicated section on Context that celebrates stories of the people and ideas that are are changing our digital lives. It is part of New America’s Women in Cybersecurity Project, which seeks to dramatically increase the representation of women in the cybersecurity/information security field by fostering strategic partnerships with industry leaders, producing cutting-edge workforce research, and championing women’s voices in media. This is a project of New America’s broader Cybersecurity Initiative, which aims to clarify and connect the often disjointed debates and policies that surround the security of our networks.