In 2012, the Ada Initiative helped kick off a discussion in the computer security and “hacker” community about the treatment of women in the community. People started asking questions like: “If we’re so committed to human rights, why are we treating women so poorly? Can we protest Bradley Manning’s imprisonment and at the same time approve of groping women without their consent?”Our work caught the eye of the editors at information security publication SC Magazine, which just named Ada Initiative co-founders Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora as two of their “Influential IT security minds in 2012.” We first came to their attention with our article on why harassment of women at conferences matters, particularly computer security and “hacker” conferences. This article helped organize and mobilize a growing grassroots movement with the computer security community to improve how women are treated by the community itself.
As one example of the changes that happened in 2012, two computer security conferences, BruCON and DeepSec, adopted conference anti-harassment policies banning things like pornography in slides and unwanted touching (based on Ada Initiative examples), with several more conferences discussing similar steps. In the case of these two conferences, the policies simply formalized the organizers’ existing standards for behavior. Other conferences will have more work to do to change the culture of sexual harassment and groping that has become the norm at their events.
SC Magazine also interviewed KC Crowell, a journalism student, self-described geek, and leader in the grassroots movement to end sexism in hacker culture. She created the “Red/Yellow Card Project,” an initiative to highlight sexism at conferences by handing out brightly colored cards in the style of sports referees. Her take on the Ada Initiative: “They have the amazing ability to connect women in tech who want to share resources and collaborate to bring about major change. That level of open collaboration and networking is so vitally important, especially in the relatively small community of women working within the tech industry.”
The computer security and hacker community is in the middle of an important discussion about their ideals of social justice and how they should apply to the treatment of women in their own community. We look forward to working with you, the community, to turn that discussion into action and bring many more women into the computer security community.
Want to be part of the change? You can donate to the Ada Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to increasing the status and participation of women in open technology and culture.