Is security a man's world?

Friday, 2 August 2002, 10:45 AM EST

To hear Stephen Northcutt tell it, a controversial women-only conference announced by SANS started innocently enough. Last week, Northcutt looked around a conference room in Boston and noticed that there were only three women and more than 100 men. Nothing new there. But this time, he got an idea about attracting more women to the field (not to mention almost doubling the number of people who might join SANS): Why not have a conference just for women?

The SANS Institute announced just that—a September conference in the New Orleans French Quarter at which all the teachers, staff, vendor representatives and attendants will be female. And on Tuesday? “I got my hard hat on,” says Northcutt, director of training for the research and education organization, who received 220 heated e-mails about Monday’s announcement by 11 a.m. Pacific time the next day.

“I’ve got a tremendous amount of response, more than we’ve ever gotten for anything else we’ve ever done, which is pretty scary to me,” he says. “People have very strong opinions. A lot of males have written and almost consistently called it sexual discrimination. And the females seem to be divided into two specific camps”: those glad to be offered a break from male-dominated security events, and those who don’t want any special treatment.

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