Article 9 min

Women in Tech: Clare Nelson

Clare Nelson: A cybersecurity, privacy and identity expert

Welcome to the first installment of Trulioo’s Women in Tech blog series, curated to shine a light on women who are blazing a trail in the technology industry. Did you know that on average, only 20 percent of tech jobs are held by women, despite the fact they make up half the workforce? In an effort to create a more diverse workforce, our aim is to share with you the thoughts and opinions – as well as the challenges and struggles – of some of tech’s top movers and shakers.

To kick things off we’re introducing you to Clare Nelson – a seasoned technologist with solid experience overseeing mergers and acquisitions and strategic product planning. An expert in cybersecurity, privacy, and identity, Clare is an award-winning keynote speaker and co-founder of C1ph3r_Qu33ns – a project created to cultivate the careers of women working in cybersecurity.

Currently, Clare is the VP of Business Development and Product Strategy (North America) for Sedicii Innovations, a European startup that is building an identity verification network based on zero-knowledge proofs – or ZKPS.

A highly decorated scholar, Clare (CISSP, CIPP/E) earned a degree in mathematics from Tufts University, before graduating from the University of Texas Center for Identity’s Identity Leadership Program. Following that, she pursued MBA studies in International Business at Regis University.

We were curious to learn more about Clare and how she came to be such a stalwart in the tech industry so we decided to ask her a few key questions about her entrepreneurial journey and the challenges faced by women in the industry.

Trulioo: How did you find yourself landing a career in identity?

Clare: I simply fell into it – I wasn’t actively seeking it out. Early in my career, I was a software engineer and also did system administration. I learned about things like user accounts, access control, and password rainbow tables. Later, I was looking for high-tech jobs and Novell came up in the search. Then I became obsessed and wanted to learn all I could about identity, everything from cryptography to human psychology. However, when I first started out, identity was not so “cool” – and I didn’t feel as though I was part of a community. Now though, as a founding member of Women in Identity and IDPro – among others – there’s a sense that everyone is riding a wave of support and success. Identity is a vibrant, multi-disciplinary, space with adjacent fields of study ranging from biometrics to blockchain.

Trulioo: Recently, there has been a lot of chat in the tech and identity space about how job descriptions are geared more towards men, resulting in a lack of women applying for jobs. Do you agree that this is a problem? How can the tech industry align themselves better with women, in order to attract a larger cohort of female candidates?

Clare: I applaud the effort to revise job descriptions. However, the root cause is not the job description. The problem starts at the top of the organization. But even before that, it can be traced back to the low number of female entrepreneurs that successfully obtain funding to start their own companies. In truth, the overall cause of the problem can be linked to the low number of women in boardrooms.

“The fantastic news is that we’re making real progress in high tech. @safe_saas”]The fantastic news is that, with the exception of cybersecurity, we’re making real progress in high tech. In saying that, there are still things that can be done to expedite this process.

Training women to interview for jobs – even if they don’t meet all of the qualifications listed – is a start. Remember the study on women versus men where job applicants read the same job description and the female applicants stated they did not qualify, but the men did? The list of qualifications on a job description might be long and reflect an ideal candidate. Women need to be clear about what they can contribute to a company, and why they’re the right for the role.

Until we can facilitate a process in which the gender of applicants does not matter, we will have bias. It reminds me of another study, where instead of appearing on stage, orchestra hopefuls performed behind a curtain. The only thing that mattered was the music, not the gender, or any other physical attribute, as a result, more women were selected. I am not in favor of programs to “hire more women”. That creates friction and then the women who are hired are suspected of being below standard, and merely present to fill the quota.

The best advice for women in an interview process, or even a quest to secure venture funding is to assume that an interviewer may not ask the tough questions he would ask male applicants. Studies have shown that women get easier questions than men, and as a result, men appear to interview better. There is an easy remedy to this. Women should account for this, and if they don’t receive tough questions during an interview, supply the information or weave in responses that would have been elicited had they been “interviewed like a man.” This will defeat unconscious as well as conscious bias.

In terms of attracting a larger cohort of female candidates, there are a number of things that can be done – such as:

  • Paying women higher salaries (and make them visible)
  • Promoting more women from within
  • Anonymizing or pseudonymizing resumes for as much of the candidate screening process as possible
  • Providing internal training to help employees recognize their biases and strive to hire and promote a more diverse workforce
  • Urging schools to promote startup contests in conjunction with science fairs. Encourage young people of all genders to start their own companies if they are so inclined.
  • Telling stories about successful female entrepreneurs and leaders in all walks of life.

The future is bright and we can all encourage the women around us to pursue their dreams and reach their full potential in their high-tech careers – and in every other aspect of their lives.

Trulioo: Can you tell me more about C1ph3r_Qu33ns? How did it come about? What is your mission?

Clare: C1ph3r_Qu33ns nurtures and cultivates the careers of women in cybersecurity. A few of us co-founded C1ph3r_Qu33ns because we were aware that women continue to comprise only 11 percent of the information security workforce. That number, despite women making up approximately half of the global population, has remained stagnant since 2013.

We all have scar tissues from our career struggles, and take delight in helping others, including men, to further the careers in cybersecurity.

At C1ph3r_Qu33ns we work one-on-one with women to help them find jobs, connect with hiring managers, prepare for interviews, give talks at conferences, join professional organizations and become leaders.

Trulioo: Do you have a mentor? Can you offer recommendations for those seeking mentorship?

Clare: There’s no magic way to find a mentor, simply ask a person whom you admire and respect. That person is probably already incredibly busy, so use their time wisely and consider seeking out multiple mentors. They can be in the identity industry, a related industry, or any other walk of life. I have multiple mentors, inside and outside the high-tech industry. I have had inspiring, motivational mentors in the form of a track coach and rock-climbing instructor. These people taught me life lessons. In return, seek to be a mentor yourself. Perhaps there is a STEM program in your city, or maybe you can volunteer with a professional organization that offers mentoring.

In addition to a mentor, another critical resource is a highly-developed network of people that will help you find a job, prepare for an interview, learn a new concept or skill, or simply provide feedback or advice at the right time and the right place. The best way to develop a network like this is to provide it for others – in turn, they will be glad to help you.

“A network of ten colleagues is sometimes more effective than a single mentor @safe_saas”A powerful network of ten committed colleagues is sometimes more effective than a single mentor.

Trulioo: What are your current goals/initiatives?

Clare: My current goals comprise of three areas: work, contribution to open standards, and mentoring via C1ph3r_Qu33ns.

  • Work: More and more, I am blending my expertise in cybersecurity, privacy, and identity. I’m highly motivated to stop identity theft and thwart bad actors and help organizations provide products and services to support this goal.
  • Contribution to open standards: As a member of the World Wide Web (W3C) Consortium, I am part of the Verifiable Credentials working group. Our mission is: “to make expressing and exchanging credentials that have been verified by a third party easier and more secure on the Web.”
  • Mentoring: Great satisfaction comes from working with C1ph3r_Qu33ns – helping other women (and men) further their careers.

An underlying goal is to maintain optimal health. Fighting bad guys requires energy and mental clarity.

Trulioo: What is the biggest challenge that women are currently facing within the identity industry?

Clare: As documented in various reports, women in identity in share many of the same problems as other women working in high tech – pay; career growth; representation at CEO level, in the boardroom and elsewhere; and bias (conscious and unconscious).

I recommend taking a look at How We Lost the Women in Computing – it’s a sobering read.

“So how did we lose the women in computing? They did not just leave; they were pushed out. There is hard work ahead of us to start to undo the damage.”

The author points out that Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper played significant roles. Unfortunately, we don’t give recognition to the multitude of other women who contributed. The author states we have a “general ignorance of computing history.”

It should not be an exceptional story to highlight a female in the industry @safe_saas”. We need to keep shining a bright spotlight on the movers and shakers in the industry, but also include the stories of the up and coming stars. It should not be an exceptional story to highlight a female in the industry.

To learn more about Clare and keep up to date with the exciting things that she’s doing, follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

If there’s a female trailblazer that you’d like to see featured in our Women in Tech blog series, please send your suggestions to [email protected]