CyberDay4Girls Brings Strong Mentorship For Girls Interested in STEM
It was 5:50 PM on October 10, 2016 – Canadian Thanksgiving. I was frantically completing final preparations for our first-ever IBMCyberDay4Girls, which I was to host the following day at our IBM headquarters in Markham, Ontario, while my family waited impatiently for me to join them for Thanksgiving dinner! And when I say ‘final preparations’, what I really mean is that I was cutting and pasting….with scissors and glue this is, not with my computer keyboard! I remember thinking, “So, this is what it feels like to be a grade school teacher.”
Designed by women in IBM Security, IBMCyberDay4Girls brings cybersecurity awareness to pre-teen and teenage girls around the world. Through this one-day program, girls learn how to protect their personal information and build a positive digital reputation. They are introduced to cybersecurity terminology, such as phishing, malware, and ransomware, as well as security techniques like threat modelling and cryptography. We also encourage the girls to pay it forward by sharing what they’ve learned with their friends and families, especially younger siblings and grandparents. Finally, the girls learn about careers in cybersecurity and have a chance to meet female role models in the industry, so that they can see what they can be!
It’s hard to believe that 3 years have passed since that first event. What started out as a pilot program with 8 small events across Canada and the US in 2016 has now grown into a global campaign with over 85 events in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, India, Ireland, Nigeria, South Africa, UK and the US. With approximately 850 volunteers contributing an estimated 7000 volunteer hours, we have reached nearly 5000 girls through this program to date.
Why are hundreds of volunteers dedicating their time to this cause? It’s all about making an impact in the lives of young girls, helping them see what they can be, and positively affecting the gender gap. And, it’s not just our volunteers that love the program. We know we’re making a difference, because teachers, parents and students tell us so. Take Linda Wade, a teacher at Lovinggood Middle School, for example. Linda recently wrote to us to say:
“I want to thank you for the CyberDay4Girls workshop I recently attended with my middle school students. The girls benefited by learning in a risk-free, all-girl environment tailored specifically for them. They left with an understanding of the importance of cybersecurity and ways they can protect themselves online. Moreover, they learned from women in the field who showed them they have career choices they may not have been aware of previously. The IBM spirit of bettering oneself while helping others was evident and contagious throughout the workshop. I know my girls were positively impacted by the lessons and the mentors. Thank you again for this fabulous opportunity!”
And then there’s Sheryl Crockett, parent of one of our CyberDay4Girls students. After attending a CyberDay4Girls with her daughter, Sheryl wrote to me to say:
“I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to mentor the young ladies from our area – particularly, my daughter, Torey Crockett. She enjoyed today’s CyberDay4Girls program tremendously….She lights up when she talks about anything related to the cyber world. She’s passionate about it….In the world we live in, it’s refreshing to see women lifting other women up – even if they are still considered young ladies. While there were many great lessons from today, this subtle lesson was of equal or greater value.”
Upon completion of our 85th CyberDay4Girls in Ottawa on October 24, I couldn’t help feeling like we’ve come full circle, having hosted the very first CyberDay4Girls here in Canada myself. I am proud to be an IBMer, to work for a company that places great value on employee volunteerism. The creation of IBMCyberDay4Girls is hands-down the one thing that I am most proud of in my IBM career. Making a difference in the life of these young girls, opening up their eyes to the world of possibilities around them, helping them see that they can be anything they want to be, help them to dream big…this is my ‘why’!
In honor of National Cybersecurity Career Awareness Week, here’s to all the IBMCyberDay4Girls volunteers who give their time to bringing cybersecurity career awareness to young girls around the world. The continued success and expansion of this program would not be possible without these volunteers, along with support from IBM Security and IBM Corporate Social Responsibility.