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My Reality

Mary Chaney Shares Her Experience as a Woman of Color in Cybersecurity

“It's not telling me what you want to do, it’s doing it,” the cybersecurity lawyer and founder of Minorities in Cybersecurity says of diversity efforts.
Along with running her own cybersecurity law practice in Dallas, Mary Chaney is the founder of Minorities in Cybersecurity, a group that supports women and minorities in the industry and whose corporate members include Microsoft. After working as a Special Agent with the FBI’s cybercrime unit, Chaney held various cybersecurity positions throughout the Northeast. She moved to Dallas in 2018.

Below, Chaney shares her experience as a person of color in the IT world, proving herself, paving the way for the next generation, and making long-term change.

Building Trust

“From my perspective, as a woman of color owning her own business, the challenges are the same as being a woman of color working in corporate America. There’s a level of trust-building that you have to do for people to consider you a subject matter expert in your field, regardless of what your experiences are. I’m a lawyer, I’m a former special agent with the FBI, I have the credentials to back up my knowledge, but there still seems to be this added level of question regarding your actual talents and abilities [when you are a woman of color].”

“I didn’t really have any problems developing relationships [in Dallas]. If anything, it was more welcoming and easier [than the Northeast].

“On the cybersecurity side, you have a lot of white males that are territorial and don’t necessarily play nice. And on the legal side, you have a lot of white men and white women that are not necessarily playing nice.”

Pioneering for Future Generations

“I’ve been a pioneer in every aspect of my life. It’s been me trying to figure it out on my own, which is why I [work] very hard to give back because that knowledge needs to be transferred to others.

“I’ve always been by myself, so my thought process is if I leave this space—cybersecurity, and privacy—and it’s still the same, I have not accomplished anything. It is my responsibility and duty to help figure this out for generations coming after me, including my daughter, a really good STEM student. She wants to be a coder. For me, it’s personal.”

Changing the Narrative

“[Minorities in Cybersecurity] is trying to increase the representation of women and minorities in cybersecurity and get organizations to look at women and minorities as viable, intelligent enough, and actually talented enough to be in the cybersecurity community. We also help those individuals who are developing their careers in cybersecurity deal with some of the challenges with bias.

“In cybersecurity, or IT, [men in IT] don’t think women belong there anyway. If they actually knew their history, some of the first coders—some of the first highly analytical and technical people—were women.

“I was always the only [woman of color in my workspaces]. So, the challenge there is trying to deal with all the unconscious bias and flat-out racism but still maintain a level of sanity, to be able to try to change the narrative, so that [people] will be able to understand and take a chance on another woman of color in the future.”

Chaney speaking at an event.

Turning Talk into Action

“There’s been a lot of talk [about diversity, equity, and inclusion] …It’s easy to say the right thing when it’s in your face; it’s harder to continue to do it over the long term.

“I’ve seen a lot of people awaken to the challenges … But the question is, what’s going to happen next year? What’s going to happen a year after that? Are we tracking these numbers to the extent that there is actually going to be real progress over time? Or are you just going to see a blip in 2021, and then it goes back to normal in 2022?

“If you are true to your organization’s spirit about changing [your company’s diversity] long term and strategically, you’re going to have to be purposeful, and you’re going to have to track the metrics.

“It’s about targets, it’s about goals, and it’s about culture. We don’t need to train people of color about how to treat people of color. We need to train the culture as a whole around inclusivity in an environment and get rid of elements that don’t align with that.

“I don’t want you to tell me about your initiatives. I want you to come up with an actual plan and show me how you’re going to measure your effectiveness. It’s not telling me what you want to do; it’s doing it.”

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