Carnegie Mellon University

downtown Pittsburgh

March 28, 2019

Women in cybersecurity gather in Pittsburgh

By Heidi Opdyke

Jason Maderer

Women in cybersecurity, from those in senior roles to the next wave of female technologists, will meet in Pittsburgh this week to share knowledge and experience, network and mentor during the sixth annual Women in CyberSecurity (WiCyS) Conference co-hosted by WiCyS and Carnegie Mellon University.

CMU faculty, students and alumni are among the keynote speakers and panelists. Farnam Jahanian, CMU president and a computer scientist, will welcome conference attendees on Friday morning.

"Ensuring that we have the right talent to meet future cybersecurity challenges will require sustained partnerships between higher education, the private sector and government, and WiCyS plays an important role in building those bridges and enhancing opportunities for women in this growing field," Jahanian said. “The CMU community is delighted to serve as the local host for this year’s WiCyS conference and to highlight our long-standing tradition of supporting diversity in technology."

On Friday evening, Lorrie Cranor, director and Bosch Distinguished Professor in Security and Privacy Technologies of CyLab and the FORE Systems professor of computer science and engineering and public policy, will discuss "Tales of an Accidental Computer Science Professor," and explore her interest in making privacy and security usable for everyone.

Dena Haritos Tsamitis, the Barbara Lazarus Professor in Information Networking and director of the Information Networking Institute(INI); Divya Ashok, senior director of product management at Salesforce and INI alumna; Saralee Kunlong, a senior software engineer at YP and INI alumna; and Era Vuksani, a graduate student studying information security; will discuss how women in tech groups can spark culture shifts in companies.

"Workplace women in tech groups play a vital role in creating a welcoming and supportive environment and cultivating a sense of belonging. The result is good for business and morale," said Haritos Tsamitis, who is a program co-lead on the local host committee along with Bobbie Stempfley, director of the CERT Division at CMU's Software Engineering Institute.

Stempfley said, in addition to a low number of women who begin careers in cybersecurity, another problem is that many of them leave the field in the middle of their careers.

"That's often the point when many women feel their voices are no longer being heard," Stempfley said. "Nearly every narrative in security is male: the guy in the hoodie; metaphors to sports and warfare. It's a very stereotyped career. We need to make improvements to ensure women feel more welcome and that their perspectives and expertise are considered as much as those from the majority."

The event's goal is to broaden participation in the cybersecurity field by recruiting, retaining and advancing females in the field of cybersecurity. There are some 300,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs nationwide according to, and various projections estimate the number of unfilled cybersecurity jobs may double by 2021. At the same time, women currently comprise only 11 to 14 percent of the cybersecurity workforce.

CMU has made a long-term commitment to purposefully seek out outstanding women and support them during their studies, through the concerted and coordinated efforts of university leaders, faculty advocates and role models, staff and fellow students. At CMU, women make up about 50 percent of the first-year class in Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science, and 43 percent in the College of Engineering, which represent two to three times the national average for those fields.

Security and privacy research crosses many disciplines at the university, including those housed in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Cleotilde Gonzalez, who is a member of CyLab and a research professor in Social and Decision Sciences, will present Saturday morning.

“Carnegie Mellon University’s strong commitment to supporting women’s pathways in cybersecurity disciplines makes the institution an ideal local host for WiCyS’ annual conference,” said Janell Straach, chair of the Governing Board for the WiCyS organization. “This event celebrates not only diversity (especially women) in the cybersecurity workforce, but also the tremendous gains that can be achieved through our unique collaboration among academia, industry, government and research."

Founded by Ambareen Siraj from Tennessee Tech University as a National Science Foundation project, the WiCyS Conference annually attracts about 1,000 attendees, including students, professionals and leaders in the cybersecurity field. Half of the participants are students attending through scholarships awarded by WiCyS with the support of its sponsors.

Story originally published here.