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An Executive Decision

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At the first Executive Women's Forum on Information Security, Privacy and Risk Management in 2003, women executives raised a glass, so to speak, to shattering glass ceilings.

The brainchild of Joyce Brocaglia, who is the CEO of information security recruiter Alta Associates, the EWF has since expanded its ranks and its influence by providing numerous, year-round networking opportunities.

Yet the conference remains true to its original mission to provide a unique opportunity for women to share advice and experiences that ultimately benefit not just their gender but the industry as a whole.

"With the EWF, women are aware of how other women succeed in gaining influence, building consensus, getting their point of views conveyed, and getting their voice heard both inside their own companies and externally," Brocaglia explains.w

--Anne Saita

"Those kinds of skills lend themselves naturally to women," explains Joyce Brocaglia, CEO of information security recruiting firm Alta Associates and founder of the Executive Women's Forum on Information Security, Privacy and Risk Management (see "An Executive Decision," right). "Women are attuned naturally to juggling a lot of things, and their experiences in multitasking, communicating and negotiating are all contributing factors to their success."

Adds Peter Gregory, a senior security strategist: "Women are very valuable; they think differently. Talented women can and will stir things up in a good way. Men want to fix it quick, women want to understand. Women improve a professional working team for a number of reasons; they see problems differently and they bring a good perspective to the table."

Johnson, who earned a degree in forestry and began her IT career through a temp job, agrees that a shift in attitude toward information security as a business enabler, rather than productivity blocker, has turned the roles of CSO and CISO into those of a problem-solver with a firm grasp on risk management. That requires learning the language of business and getting a firm understanding of how enterprises operate.

"It's much more of a complex challenge, and it requires relationships and taking time to understand a business before you can be understood," she says. "Maybe that is what's drawing more women into the business."

Rebecca Norlander, who came to Microsoft as an Office application developer and now is general manager of its Security Technology Unit, believes that the ability to view issues from myriad angles serves a useful tool in developing operational, tactical and strategic goals. "I think women have a higher tendency to look at computers as tools in their daily life that solve a larger problem and need to be treated with care, whereas a lot of men see [security] as a technical challenge."

As such, Norlander says, women are "uniquely positioned to paint a picture of what you're actually trying to accomplish, and then translate it into nitty-gritty technical details in the solutions. Most men do the opposite."

But some, like Suzanne Hall, AARP's director of IT operations, says the workplace still has a ways to go. "Security has a seat at the table and is reporting to the highest levels," Hall says. "As a woman, the impact is the same as it was for many women who first found themselves at the executive table: Look around, and you are often the only woman."

This was first published in July 2006

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