Identity at the Center is a weekly podcast all about identity security in the context of identity and access management (IAM). With a combined 30+ years of IAM experience, hosts Jim McDonald and Jeff Steadman bring you conversations with news, topics, and guests from the identity management industry.
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You came highly recommended from a couple of folks that we’ve had on the past — people like Nishant Kaushik and Ian Glazer — and we’re excited to have you on the show. I’m also excited because we may or may not get an audio appearance from Piper the cat. We will see if that happens or not. If we get some comments on identity from Piper, that be great as well, but in the absence of that, our traditional first question that we always like to start with is, how did you get into the identity space? Is it something that chose you, or did you choose it?
It’s a great question. It chose me. It was not something I was looking for, and I was doing something so completely different. I think I have told you before, I’m an attorney by training, and I started out doing the traditional practice-of-law things. And then I moved into the nonprofit world, actually, and I was managing national nonprofit memberships. And someone in the identity field, who I had met in other circumstances, recruited me to help create the first nonprofit public-private partnership with the NIST, the National Institute for Standards and Technology. This was back in 2012, when they were working on the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, and they wanted to create a nonprofit and have this public-private partnership where industry, the identity industry, would be working hand in hand with government and try to accomplish all these different things.
It was a terrific opportunity, and I said, “Sure,” but I have to tell you that the first six months, my head hurt every day, because I really had to learn about the IAM field. There were a lot of terms that you all use that I’d never heard of — acronyms. Really, the first six months, I thought, “What was I thinking?” I was really brought in for my management skills, frankly, and I really helped the organization get started, but it turned out to be something that I really love, and I even tried to go away.
I got recruited to run a different nonprofit back in the legal world. I only stayed there about three years, and as soon as I decided to go off on my own, all these identity folks started calling and saying, “Hey, does this mean you can do projects?” So, I’ve gone right back into it and I’m really grateful for that because I enjoy the people and I enjoy the work, and I think, as we’re dealing with the pandemic, it’s becoming even more important. So, it’s an exciting place to be.
I think that a lot of what I bring to it — and I wouldn’t attribute anything I learned in law school at all for this — but I think that a lot of what I bring to this is that, in many ways, I have a practical point of view, but I see the legal policy that is often involved in things that people don’t think about. I’m often a broker, if you will, between people who are using the IAM technology — need it, have to have it — but a lot of times, they just want to delegate. I just finished a project with the prosecutor’s office, and they just wanted their IT people to make decisions, but you can’t do that, because how you structure whatever kind of identity authentication, all these things, there’s a policy reason for why you do the things the way you do, and a lot of it is grounded in some very important legal policies and legal principles, and a lot of times, people don’t understand that.
I do a lot of work, for example, in the legal community around digital evidence, and people forget that when you have surveillance camera at a 7-Eleven and they’ve captured a drug buy or something in the parking lot, well, the innocent bystanders that are captured by the camera have their own privacy rights — not just the people who are involved in illegal activity. I think a lot of times, we don’t realize that that’s not an IT decision, what you do with that. So, if I’m a mom and my kids are in my minivan eating a slushie, and they don’t know about this, they don’t want their images splashed all over the internet in the name of transparency. So, there’s a lot of things that people have to think through. That’s a very simplistic example, but I think that that’s what I bring to it. I see a lot of the policy implications that I have concern that people don’t always pay enough attention to.
That’s a great perspective. One thing I would like to shift to is talking about Women in Identity. One thing I love is, the concept is baked into the name Women in Identity, but maybe you can tell us a little bit more. What is the organization all about? Tell us a little bit about the history of the organization and the mission.
I certainly think that the leadership, the impetus for this, came from women who worked in this industry. I think that happened a few years ago: People were talking about it, and they said, “Why not?” So, although there’s a big U.S. presence — people like me — this actually started as a nonprofit based in the U.K. So, that’s currently where our headquarters, if you will, is. It’s a 100% volunteer organization, so there’s no staff at this point; there are not people who are paid. I’m a volunteer. I have a day job, but I’m very passionate about Women in Identity, so I devote time to it. That’s really true for everyone that’s involved.
The vision for the organization is that identity that’s for everyone should be created by everyone, and really pushing that diversity. We talk, obviously, about women in particular, but that really expands to people of color and to people of different sexual preference and gender, and all these different things. Disabilities — that’s another one that we started to see, saying, “We need to be more representative in the IAM world,” and we haven’t done that enough.
Now, that said, I think the other thing that is really unique and special about Women in Identity is that the membership is also very diverse. It’s not just women. There are lots of men who belong. I am amazed at the commitment of some of the men in the organization who really see diversity as critical to how we work, how our companies are organized, our work teams and all that, but also the products that are being developed to be really useful to our clients. It’s really important that we have that diversity in creating the things that we do.
I have a follow-up question. Like the Identity at the Center podcast, it’s a global organization — I’m saying that in a joking way, but two-thirds of our audience is based in the U.S. and a whole one-third is outside of the U.S., and one of the things that we have to be really careful about is, since Jeff and I both live in the U.S. — a lot of our guests are U.S.-based — it is about not making it a 100% U.S.-focused podcast. When I think about Women in Identity as a global organization, the question would be, are the challenges that women face in identity the same around the world, same as the U.S., or are they facing different challenges based on where in the world they are?
That’s a great question. There are over a dozen countries that are part of Women in Identity, and all of them have an ambassador like me, and I can’t speak for all of them, but I will tell you that we host weekly coffee calls on Fridays, and the first coffee call – and I’m the one who hosts those — is always with folks who are on the other side of the world from where I am. I’m based in Washington, D.C., so, like New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and so on. We usually talk about certain substantive topics when it comes to more about the diversity topic and how it relates to identity, and what’s interesting is that everything we talk about resonates with those folks as well.
For example, there are a couple of women from Singapore who are often on those calls, and we’ve talked about how when women speak, often, women’s voices are not given as much credit or as much weight — and there’s a lot of research about that which I’m happy to share with you. So, this is not me just saying, “Sour grapes — my experience.” No, we know a lot about that, and it’s very cultural, and many times, that even means other women who give less credit to women’s voices and their opinions. When I’m talking with folks in some of these other cultures, that’s an example that really resonated with them — they felt the same, but their sense was that the cultural norms, if you will, that they have to overcome those challenges, are at a higher bar than what we experience in the U.S., so that, in that sense — and I can’t begin to explain Japanese culture or any other of those, but it is a different mind-set and a different experience.
What I have found so far is that the issues seem to be the same, but sometimes the degree, or some of the things that are real barriers for them, have a different place where they are. I think in some countries, women in leadership are more well accepted than they are in the U.S. or the U.K., for example. I guess we’re not homogenous, even though the issues resonate, but sometimes to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the country, if that makes sense.
I can see that. Obviously, cultural difference will weigh in on any number of things, but given the traditional male-female roles in those cultures would certainly play out into business, which is identity and all this other stuff, too. As far as partnerships with other organizations, I think Women in Identity has some level of overlap, or maybe even something more formal than that with organizations like IDPro. Can you talk a little bit about what that overlap might look like, and how that works for two organizations working together in the same space but with different focuses?
I think that’s something that some people just may not be aware of — of who can actually join these, and that there is a place at the table at an organization like Women in Identity for men to help support and be part of that organization and help extol the virtues of diversity inclusion, making sure that identity problems are being looked at holistically, and not just from one point of view. And I think a lot of good products like identity can, for an organization, follow that same process where you have diversity of opinions, diversity of use cases.
You mentioned not just women but also usability concerns that come up out of the stuff like that. It’s important that when people who are in charge of identity for their organizations, people that are listening, they understand that it is not a one-size-fits-all and that there are going to be different viewpoints that can contribute to a much stronger product in their identity space, whether that product is their identity program at their organization or an actual software service that’s being developed. I found that really interesting.
One of the things that is also helpful is the idea of mentoring and getting people out there and helping them be successful. One of the things I love about the identity space is, people are very, very welcoming to it, whether you’ve been in the space for six months or if you’ve been in it for 15, 20 years. There are a lot of people who are willing to share their knowledge, and people don’t have to necessarily run the same roads that have been run over before and haven’t been as great of an experience. You’re going to learn from that.
One of the things I think would be interesting to hear from you is, what value does mentoring provide for folks out there — but also being a mentee, being open to having that relationship with someone who’s maybe got some experience and can take you under their wing and help shepherd and guide some of the folks into the space.
That’s a great question. I’m trying to think about where do I start? At the moment, Women in Identity doesn’t really have a formal mentoring program, but there is a lot of informal mentoring. I have started looking at a lot more research about how to make that happen and the benefits of that.
It’s interesting: McKinsey & Company did a study that showed, for the last 20 years, companies where there were women in leadership, like C-suite-level, high-up leadership, experienced 15–20% increased revenues over companies that did not, and yet it has not been enough of a motivator to change the diversity. So, if money’s not driving our interest in this, what does it take? A lot of the research shows that — it goes back to what I said before — it’s systemic; it’s cultural. So, how do we overcome that?
One of the things that we know is that men are more likely to mentor other men and be comfortable with that and do it without hesitating, without thinking. I don’t know what the factors are, for sure, but men have not always been willing to do that as often for women, and I think it’s really important that they’d be willing to do that and they’d be willing to champion them and say good things about them even when they’re not in the room. In a lot of ways, we have to rely on that men will build up that expertise. I mentioned to you before that there’s a terrific book called Athena Rising, which was written by two old white guys, and it basically explains why it’s important for men to mentor women and how to do that, which in some ways isn’t all that different from mentoring men, but sometimes it’s a different mind-set, and a willingness to take that risk.
You mentioned Identiverse. This past summer, I spoke about these issues at an Identiverse session, and one of the gentlemen in the chat said, “A lot of times, when I’m in meetings and women are the ones being interrupted, or they don’t get as much chance to talk, whatever, I try to share my white-boy power, and I make sure that they get called on, or I say, ‘Hey, you mentioned this. I think that was a good idea. Why don’t we let such-and-such tell us more?’ and do those kinds of things.”
The wonderful thing about Women in Identity is, we all have to come together, and I am so grateful for the men who are willing to do that. That said, I think there are often other challenges that women face, and sometimes, it’s easier for women to help other women, and that’s one of the things that, certainly, as an organization, we’re trying to do. So, I’ve had the opportunity to do some of that informally with women, like we mentioned, in other countries.
One woman in particular, I really helped get through a whole career change, to change to a different job, and some of that was about the support to say, “You don’t have to be unhappy. There are other things out there. You can continue in the IAM field. You don’t have leave to go on and do other things.” She’s doing terrific, and I’m thrilled for her. It’s a real mix, but it really is critical, and in some ways, although identity’s been around for a long time, it feels like a newer field, and maybe it’s because there’s so much emphasis now, especially with the pandemic, that really — I encourage people who may not have thought about this as a career — it’s a legitimate career choice, and you should make that choice for so many different reasons. Did I answer the question?
That was a great answer. I find it so interesting because we’ve talked a few times now, and you mentioned that piece about men mentoring women, and it’s really something that I’ve chewed on a lot, and I came to the conclusion, “Yes, I can feel that.” In our society, we’re always looking for the ulterior motive: “Why is he helping out her? Maybe he likes her.” So, as long as that kind of mentality exists, there’s the potential that people hold back and are afraid to be looked at in that way. Does that make sense to you, or does that resonate with you?
I do think that there are people who have concerns, but I have to tell you, for me, in my own career, there’s a lot of — well, remember when I said I helped start up the Identity Ecosystem Steering Group (IDESG) back in the day? That was a man. He saw me in other settings, and I’m so grateful that he saw my talent, if you will, my skills, and said, “Hey, we really need what you bring to the table.” If he hadn’t done that, the trajectory of my career would be so different. So, I’m very grateful for that.
I do think that there is some of that, but it’s really that you have to think about you handle all of that, and there are always going to be bad actors, but by and large, there’s a lot of people that when you see someone who does a really good job and you like them and you think that they deserve a shot, I think it’s terrific. How close is that relationship? It’s not like he and I were best buddies — we weren’t. That said, it was such a jump start to my career. There are a lot of other people like that, or people who influence me about my philosophy, if you will, and that made a big difference. I’m grateful to a lot of men — I’m also grateful to a lot of women — but I’m very fortunate that way, and I hope that others will take the risk, if you will.
As long as you have good motives, as long as you’re there to help and support other people, that’s really what makes the difference. I think when you’re genuine that way, that’s what shows through. So, when you say, “Hey, you should take a look at this person because they’re really good,” for whatever reason, and then that comes to pass, I don’t want to recommend somebody, because my professional reputation is on the line, unless I think they’re really good. When people see that and they’re like, “Oh, wow. You’re right. She really knows her stuff, and that was a good thing” — I know what you’re saying. You can feel that risk, but in some ways in the field, it’s gotten better. I’m not exactly sure why, but —
You’ve got to be able to be willing to take some risks like that. Otherwise, nothing’s ever going to change. You used the word gratitude. That resonates with me. In terms of gratitude, Women in Identity has been built on the backs of a lot of people, and I was wondering if you may be willing to shout out some of those people and talk about the contributions that they’ve made.
Sure. I appreciate you giving me the chance to do this. The original board of directors for Women in Identity, which as I mentioned started in the U.K., is actually a mix of U.K. and U.S. professionals, and I’d really like to shout out to them: Emma Lindley, Colette D’Alessandro, Pam Dingle. Those three women built this. They took something that was talked about and made it real. I really give them a lot of credit. Pam recruited me to be part of this, so I’m thrilled for that too.
Along with them, we have some other people that are members and have really made a difference — if I could shout out about some of the men who are members: Ian Glazer, who I know that you all know. He’s been fantastic. I’ve made him speak at all kinds of Women in Identity events. He’s really good at promoting us and working together, which is fantastic. Nishant Kaushik — Nishant is on almost every Friday coffee call with me, and I just can’t get over his commitment to diversity. It’s amazing, and it’s terrific. He’s very thoughtful, and he’s just very supportive .
Another man who’s been really helpful to me is Andrew Weaver. Andrew is in New Zealand. I’ve learned a lot from their approach to diversity and to a lot of other issues, and he is another one. I had him and Tamara Al-Salim, who’s the Women in Identity ambassador to New Zealand. They were on a panel for me at a conference that would have been in D.C. if we were meeting in person. He’s the one who spoke up and said, “Hey, Women in Identity is wonderful. Everyone on this call should join.” So, it’s nice when the men are saying, “This is a worthwhile organization.” I guess those would be the folks.
Helen Chua in Singapore is terrific. I mentioned Tamara. Melissa Carvalho and Chanda Jackson and Nicole Landry, they’re all up in Canada. They’re also really helpful to me. As you can imagine, Canada and the U.S. work together, all of the other leadership folks, so it’s a great organization. It can be a lot of work when you’re completely sustained by volunteers and there’s no paid staff. We have to all pitch in and support each other, and we really do that. And, like I said, we’re all in this together, and you see that in the entire organization — all the work we do — and I think it makes a big difference. And as you said, I’m grateful. I’m very grateful.
I’m sitting here listening while you’re talking about all these great people that are in the space, and if you haven’t heard Ian speak — he was on the show previous to this one — go back and listen to that one if you missed it. I was sitting here thinking about mentor and mentee and some of the folks that at least that I’ve come into contact with, and I’ll be honest: I’m a terrible mentee. I’m very individual. I like to learn things myself, and that’s just me. I don’t mind being in that mentorship-type role with other folks, and I’m thinking about the times when I’ve actually been a mentee and didn’t even know it.
The most pivotal mentors that I’ve had at different points in my career were all women. I’m thinking of my first job in the identity space. I was the first man on an all-woman team building Lotus Notes IDs and RACF IDs, so, in the spirit of shout-outs, I’m going to shout out Caroline and Cathy. They’re the ones that really got me into the identity space, showed me the ropes. Whether they liked it or not, that’s how that worked out. I think of managers that I’ve had in the past: Maria, who really kick-started my career in me taking a more active role in managing my career versus just being a passive bystander. I think of other really strong women that I’ve been really happy to be associated with in previous roles that I’ve held, people like Tina and Jamie, and folks like that, who — man or woman — they know their stuff, they’re great to work with, and their success helped my success.
I went out on a little bit of a dry time there, but it just got me thinking here, as you were talking, I was like, “You know what? Now that I think about it, they’ve played a very pivotal role in my career itself,” and I’m happy to see those different viewpoints being more recognized in the space. And I hope others will take the opportunity to take a look at their organizations, whether it’s up or down from wherever they happen to be sitting, and take advantage of the really smart people that are probably already in the organization, and listening to those viewpoints. So, I appreciate you sparking that in me, and again, shout-out to Caroline, Cathy, Maria, Tina, Jamie. You guys know who you are. I don’t know if you’re listening, but you all had a big impact on my career. So, shout-out to them.
You’ve been supergracious with your time, and I want to make sure we respect that. One of the things that we like to talk through is, how can people get better? As Jim likes to say, “How do you sharpen the saw?” What keeps you on top of your role within the identity space? And it doesn’t necessarily have to be identity-based itself. It can be getting better at any facet of your professional career. You mentioned a book earlier, the Athena Rising book — and we’ll have links in our show notes to things that we talk about here so people can easily reference it. Are there other resources that you think other people should check out to help them, whether it’s identity, or diversity, or Women in Identity specifically?
What I do to sharpen the saw —which is a good way to put it — I’m a little bit more deliberate about when I see webinars or books or articles about, especially for me, diversity, whether it’s race or gender or disability, whatever it might be, I actually try to be a little bit more proactive and build time in my day to pay attention, to read things, to watch those webinars. Even though nobody’s paying me to do that, and that’s on my own time, what happens is, it makes me better in everything else that I do. Of late, I have done more around diversity, equity, and inclusion than I have around identity, although I’m at lots of identity conferences and webinars and all that kind of thing, but I’m really sharpening the saw there.
I may have mentioned to you before: Here in the U.S., the Big 10 law schools — I am an alum of one of those Big 10 law schools (which is probably how I heard about it) — did a whole series on race and the law. It’s free, and it was not set up as some kind of legal education. It really is an introduction about issues. Remember when we talked about, early in the podcast, where I feel like, a lot of times, I’m looking at “What are the policy issues?” “What are the legal implications?” or “What are the policy issues that come out of identity?” When you start to see, it’s just a real awakening for me about areas that I hadn’t even thought about.
Then I also have my own little reading list. I read a lot of books that are specific — I mentioned Athena Rising. Another one, when I talked about women voices, there’s a book called The Silent Sex, and it’s really about “What are those cultural norms we have that we aren’t even aware of that give less credibility to women’s voices?” There are all kinds of science and research about so many of these areas, and more than I’ve touched on here. So, that’s what I do: I read. I choose to not read the novel, but read the book that’s a little more educational, and what I find is that for all of us, in a lot of ways, this is about becoming aware, just paying attention.
In Athena Rising, it recommends that when you’re working with a group of people, you take a step back and see who gets interrupted, who talks most of the time, whose ideas get taken over by others, and basically, it says if you watch, you’ll see that it’s all women. Women are the ones who get interrupted. Women are the ones who don’t get time to talk. Women are the ones whose ideas get taken over by others, and those are guys. I hadn’t thought about that. A lot of times, we women, we’re doing some of the same things to ourselves.
I think it’s important to just keep educating yourself, to be aware, to read about or watch these webinars and think about, look for, “Where does this apply in my own life?” I think that’s how we really make change. It’s not by a checklist about our hiring procedures or anything else; it’s really about what do we take and internalize “How do we grow?” And we have to be committed to, I think, our own growth — to sharpening the saw, as you say — and to do that takes a little bit of effort, but I have been amazed at the ways that I feel like I’ve grown and how my knowledge has expanded because of the research and the hard work of other people who were willing to share that.
That word awareness, I think that sparks a good thing that I think people really need to take into consideration. Being aware of your surroundings and how your actions affect up and down — but also, people are watching. There are a lot of people, different people, whether it’s in the organization or whatever it may be, and the way that you conduct yourself has an impact on people that you may not even be aware of. Take that into account when you’re designing your identity programs, when you’re running the business of your identity. Whatever it maybe looks like, take that into consideration
I just had one thing I would like to say, and it’s really something that you said, Jeff, that I think is so important, and that is that you can be a leader no matter what position you are in the company; you don’t have to be an executive to be a leader. I think your comment that other people are watching is very true, and the more that you become aware and you embrace that diversity, that inclusion, you’ll be a leader right where you are, even if you’re an entry-level person. I encourage people that you don’t have to wait until you’ve been at this for 10 years. You can start right now, and people will pay attention. I think Jeff’s right about that, so I appreciate you raising that.
That is all good stuff, and I will definitely have this listed in the show notes: the Big 10 series, Athena Rising, The Silent Sex; maybe we’d even get a link to Kay’s Big Brain List of bibliography books, whatever that looks like. We’ll try to include as much of that in the show notes as possible so people can check that out. Kay, before we wrap things up, what’s the best way for people to get in touch with you or check out Women in Identity? What’s the best way for people to look into that?
The Women in Identity website is a really great place to start, and I encourage everyone, whoever you are and whatever position you’re in, to sign up. I think it provides a lot of good educational background. It also gives you a really terrific network. It raises awareness in a lot of ways. You will have to be approved, but that’s mostly because we got spammed a lot in the beginning, so we realized we had to do that. I mentioned the coffee calls; once you sign up, I encourage everyone to join us for the coffee call. It’s a half hour. The topics are all over the place, and you can introduce anything you want to talk about too. It’s a great group. We have two calls to accommodate different parts of the globe.
For reaching me, I have a profile, and I believe my Women in Identity email is on there. Again, that’s my volunteer job. I have a day job and I have a separate email, but for Women in Identity, it's just [email protected] — not hard to find. Women in Identity has a LinkedIn page. It has a Twitter. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn. We try to post and put a lot of information out on social media. For example, the coffee calls, always on Twitter, you’ll see what time it is, the link to get on, and what the topic is for that particular week. Usually, I give them an article for people to spend two minutes to read about the topic. Those are probably the easiest ways to be in touch. I would love to talk with anyone and answer any questions. We’re very inclusive and very welcoming. I’m so glad to hear that both of you have signed up.
Kay, there’s no cost to join as well, right?
That’s true. I forgot to mention. Thank you for that. You’re right — there are no member dues. It’s free. Membership is free. We mostly rely on things like paying for our website, from corporate sponsors. You’ll see they’re listed on our website too —w e have quite a few companies that really help us keep the doors open. but you’re right: There are no dues, and as I said, it’s all volunteer-run.
That’s great. So, the website is WomeninIdentity.org, and we’ll have a link to that in the show notes as well. We encourage people to not only check it out but also become a participant, be part of the conversation, and drive up that personal network and communicate and identify what other folks are in the space. Jim, any final words of wisdom before we wrap it up for this week?
First, maybe jokingly, I hope we didn’t interrupt you, Kay, as you were speaking, but, Jeff, if we did, hopefully we can edit it out. Now, my normal thing, which is for all of our listeners, we want to connect, we want to network. You can find Jeff and me on LinkedIn. It sounds like you can connect with Kay on LinkedIn as well. Then, Kay, you’re in D.C., you’re a Beltway person. Maybe if Jeff and I get out to D.C., we can all go to a Washington Nationals game — the World Series champions in 2019, right?
Kay is overly excited, I can tell, from that aspect. Yes, that would be fantastic. You have to mention at some point, people will be traveling again, so I’m looking forward to fist bumps in hallways and putting those fist bumps to virtual faces that I’ve been seeing over the last year. And hopefully, Kay, the next time we’re able to get in touch in the same spot, let’s get a coffee, a beverage, whatever it may be, wherever we happen to be, and we’ll look forward to that. With that, we’ll go ahead and close it out for this week. I want to thank Kay for being part of the show today and sharing her insights. Jim, thank you as always. You can find the show at IdentityattheCenter.com for those who are listening and want to check out some of our other shows that we’ve done, and we’re also on Twitter as well @IDACPodcasts. With that, we’re going to go ahead and leave it for the week, and we’ll talk to you in the next one.
Thanks for listening to the Identity at the Center podcast. If you like what you heard, don’t forget to subscribe, and visit us on the web at IdentityattheCenter.com.