At the premier cybersecurity conference known as DEF CON in 2013, Joan Stanolis heard a statement that gave her pause.
Stanolis was one of few women in attendance and was there with her now-husband, Kris Wall, to learn from internationally known experts about cybersecurity and about “white hat” hacking, the ethical kind of hacking used to help companies find vulnerabilities in computer systems and protect them from fraud. At the end of the keynote speech, organizers reviewed the protocol for the conference and ended with the words: “Remember, don’t touch the women.”
“I just looked at Kris at the time, and I was like, ‘did he just tell them not to touch the women?’” said Stanolis, astounded that the group needed that specific type of social etiquette guidance. “I was like OK, that’s weird.”
Since then, as a woman in cybersecurity, co-founder of new company Critical Fault LLC and as a teacher, Stanolis has found her skills generally met with respect. Also, she noted that, as more women have entered technology fields in recent years, things have improved to the point she hasn’t heard any statements like that since then.
“Is it a very weird gap between how many men are in this career and how many women are in this career?” Stanolis asked. “Yes, but it is changing.”
Like Stanolis, Richelle Jones also has felt how lopsided the ratio of women to men in technology is. She is a cybersecurity management specialist for a federal civilian agency and holds three certifications in her field as well a Master of Business Administration degree.
Jones has noticed a difference between how men and women are perceived in technology fields. Women often are slotted in project or business analyst roles while men work on the technical side, she said.
At times, she has had to get independent validation to verify a technical point she is making, even though she has done all the research and has all the experience about a particular topic. She and other women in technology fields have talked about how people don’t often expect that same level of proof from men, or that in meetings, they will defer to the man’s opinion.
On the other side, women can be competitive and dismissive toward other women, she said, adding that as a woman in technology, she wants to make sure other women feel supported, valued and important so that they say “hey, I want to do this job because I can and am capable,” she said.
Several years ago, Jones started writing articles and content on LinkedIn to boost the cybersecurity field and those working in it. She has talked to her daughter’s class about cybersecurity careers, helped mentor women about how to get into the field and written a children’s book encouraging young girls to find their own paths.
Both Stanolis and Jones are among four speakers on an Oct. 19 panel about being a woman in cybersecurity called “Hacking the Boys’ Club” at the upcoming InnoTech Oklahoma conference at the Oklahoma City Convention Center. Their session at this technology and innovation conference is part of the breakout summit hosted by the nonprofit professional organization Oklahoma Women in Tech.
Jones until recently was the information security compliance manager for Chickasaw Nation Industries Inc., where she worked for three years. She started in cybersecurity at the U.S. Department of Defense – Defense Information Security Agency during college and afterward, working her way from the IT service desk to IT project manager and learning the compliance and data security side of cybersecurity along the way.
“I love cybersecurity,” Jones said. “Cybersecurity is a huge field. There are so many different facets of it, but my favorite thing about cybersecurity is policy, compliance.” She loves making policies that ensure a company’s safety, working with teams that are trying to resolve technical problems and then developing procedures and communication related to them.
Stanolis’ path to cybersecurity started in public education – she double-majored in secondary education and mathematics in college and still teaches geometry, trigonometry, pre-calculus and calculus at Jones High School, where she is head of the math department.
About a year-and-a-half ago, Stanolis, Wall and Jordan Caldwell co-founded Critical Fault LLC. The company primarily focuses on providing security through “red-teaming,” where they find a company’s vulnerabilities in their technology by trying to break through them as if they were an adversary using methods that include things like social engineering or walking through the front door and plugging in a flash drive.
Security threats from everywhere are increasing as scammers get more sophisticated, Stanolis and Jones acknowledged.
Stanolis serves as Critical Fault’s chief operating officer, focusing on outreach, communications and the like while her partners focus on technical problem-solving. She has earned her license as a Systems Security Certified Practitioner and is working towards another as a certified information systems auditor.
“The cool thing about cybersecurity is that you don’t need traditional paths forward,” said Stanolis. While she has a natural curiosity and a love of learning, it took some time for her to realize there was a space in tech for her. “Change can be scary, right?”
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