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David Braue
Editor at Large

CISO brings civilian voice to Australia’s UN delegation on tech-driven empowerment of women

Mar 01, 20184 mins
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Australian CISO Jo Stewart-Rattray has secured a place as one of just two civilian delegates to join representatives from 193 countries as they converge on the United Nations this month to discuss the role of technology in empowering women around the globe.

The UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will hold its 62nd session, called CSW62, in New York City later this month. Stewart-Rattray will join National Rural Women’s Coalition president Dr Patricia Hamilton to support an official delegation led by Australia’s UN ambassador Gillian Bird, government minister Kelly O’Dwyer, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner June Oscar.

This session will unite delegates to discuss the success of efforts around gender equality, with an emphasis on how technology can impact the lives of rural women and girls. That makes it doubly resonant for Stewart-Rattray, who grew up in rural SA and now works as director of information security IT assurance with South Australian chartered accountancy BRM Holdich.

The trip is “a long-held dream come true”, Stewart-Rattray told CSO Australia, noting that she has imagined of going to the UN to “make a difference” since she was seven and has previously explored the relationship between rural women and technology during trips to places like Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka.

She is “expecting [her] eyes to be opened” by the stories that will emerge during a two-week event – which will, she hopes, culminate in binding recommendations for action to be adopted by the participating countries.

“We know the impact that technology can have on people’s lives,” she explained, “and it can only be seen as empowering. I would hope that part of the discussion will be around how women get access to technology to assist them in their lives – and, by doing that, to empower them.”

Stewart-Rattray, who serves as director of industry association ISACA’s international board of directors and chairs the group’s Women’s Leadership Council, is also chair of the Australian Computer Society’s Branch Executive Committee. She has long been active in promoting the interests of women in technology and is a strong proponent of ISACA’s SheLeadsTech program.

The UN event, which kicks off just days after International Women’s Day on March 8, comes in a climate of increasing global attention being paid to issues around technology, privacy, and equity of access.

Women’s awareness of technology issues has grown over the past year but there is still a long way to go, according to a recent NCSA-Raytheon analysis of the cybersecurity workforce that found that women continue to report having more hardships and fewer opportunities than their male counterparts.

Women were less likely than men (25 percent compared to 35 percent) to say that their high-school education had prepared them to use technology safely in the workplace. They were also generally less aware of the responsibilities of a cybersecurity job, with 41 percent saying they understood the role compared with two-thirds of men.

Just 41 percent of women had sought out cybersecurity programs – compared with 69 percent of men.

These perceptions continued to shape the career transitions and goals of millennials as they enter the workforce, the report concluded. “It’s important to know that young adults believe cybersecurity is important,” the authors noted, just as it is to know they conduct cyber practices that might put businesses at risk.

“By understanding that millennials often feel that they aren’t qualified for cyber jobs. And that they want a personal connection to their company’s goals, schools and businesses are able to better appeal to them. Data showing that women face more difficulties or may be unconsciously overlooked can also help businesses to counter the problem with new approaches and opportunities.”

Raytheon’s Women’s Cybersecurity Scholarship is one such program, offering over $US100,000 ($A128,000) in scholarships and paid internships since 2016. But cybersecurity is only one of many technology areas likely to be raised during the UN forum, and Stewart-Rattray is optimistic that women’s ability to make strong connections will drive a sense of camaraderie amongst delegates who come from a wide variety of backgrounds and environments.

“Something women are very good at is listening to stories and telling stories,” she said. “We learn so much by it. And by bringing in civil-society delegates on the Australian delegation, we can be a conduit for those experiences – bringing back what they have brought us. It’s about forming a level of trust in that relationship so we can take it forward.”