From CEOs and government leaders, to families and individuals concerned about privacy, identity theft and fraud, it’s safe to say that everyone who lives or works in the digital world is concerned about cyber security. That’s why the cyber security industry is growing faster than the ability of the labor force to fill it – with hundreds of thousands of unfilled positions today, and an estimated 1.5 million positions that will need to be filled by 2020. But with girls and women representing only 10 percent of the cyber security workforce, it’s essential that we teach girls about opportunities in STEM careers, and mentor and encourage them to remain engaged in STEM education.
As part of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and in keeping with IBM’s commitment to workforce diversity, IBM Security and Women in Security Excelling Initiative (WISE) launched #IBMCyberDay4Girls – a new program for girls in grades 6 to 8 hosted at IBM sites in the U.S. and Canada. We designed the program to help raise cyber security awareness among young girls at the critical juncture when many begin opting out of science and math. Our goal was to capture the imaginations of these students both by sharing information about future opportunities in cyber security, and by offering encouragement and support to counteract the social and peer pressures that discourage too many talented young women from pursuing their interests in STEM.
The first four #IBMCyberDay4Girls events reached more than 100 girls from schools in Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Markham, Ontario. Volunteers came together across these four sites to teach girls about protecting their personal information and digital reputations. The girls then had the opportunity to demonstrate their newly acquired knowledge through team-play of a board game designed by IBM Security Systems Acquisitions Operations Manager Catherine Webb.
Program participants also learned about applying basic threat modeling to help anticipate and defend against hacking attempts of internet-connected devices and systems, and gained valuable career insights from women leaders from all disciplines within IBM Security. Each event also featured a tour of some of IBM’s newest facilities – including our top-notch Design Studio in Austin.
I had hoped that the program would inspire at least a few of the girls and open their eyes to the world of possibilities in cyber security, but the results far exceeded my expectations. When asked to provide program feedback, in addition to sharing some of the technical things they learned from the sessions – how to protect themselves online; that anything connected to the internet can be hacked – one of the girls said that the program had taught her “that women are just as capable as men in the tech field.” And when we asked one group how many would be interested in further exposure to cyber security-related studies (even if they didn’t plan to pursue cyber security as a career), nearly every girl raised her hand. It feels so rewarding to be shaping these young minds!
We are looking forward to continuing this momentum with #IBMCyberDay4Girls events in Ottawa, Ontario and New York City on October 28, and bringing the excitement of these rewarding careers to even more young girls as we round out National Cyber Security Awareness Month.
Heather Ricciuto is the Academic Initiative Leader for IBM Security. IBM Security, IBM Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs, and more than 40 sponsoring executives and volunteers have worked together to make #IBMCyberDay4Girls a resounding success.
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