Heather and volunteers
IBM volunteers Heather Wang,
Heather Ricciuto and
Catherine Webb are
changing perceptions about
STEM and girls with
IBMCyberDay4Girls.

Heather and volunteers
IBM volunteers Heather Wang,
Heather Ricciuto and
Catherine Webb are
changing perceptions about
STEM and girls with
IBMCyberDay4Girls.

Part seven in a series. “Voices of IBM Volunteers” is part of the SkillsBuild program to reach one million young people through STEM-related volunteering in 2018, and five million young people over the next five years. Watch the video (YouTube, 04:20)

The drive to close the global skills gap is among IBM’s most important initiatives. SkillsBuild will call on IBM volunteers to promote activities that enable digital literacy with young people, introduce them to hands-on problem solving, and spark their interest in STEM learning—using resources and support on the IBM Volunteers web site.


IBM volunteer: Heather Ricciuto

International Women’s Day was just a few weeks ago (March 8), and once again I feel compelled to draw attention to the significant gender gap in the cybersecurity industry.

With so much opportunity, it is essential that we teach young girls about cybersecurity, and about STEM careers in general. We must mentor them and encourage them to remain engaged in STEM education for the long haul.

IBMCyberDay4Girls
As the global academic outreach leader for IBM Security, I was happy to volunteer and participate in the launch of IBMCyberDay4Days in October, 2016.

IBMCyberDay4Girls is a program designed to bring cybersecurity awareness to middle school girls around the world, developed in partnership with IBM Security and the Women in Security Excelling (WISE) business resource group at IBM.

The phase between ages 11 and 14 is a critical time when many girls begin to opt out of science and math. In many cases, girls opt out because they cannot make the connection between STEM-related subjects and their futures, because it’s not cool, or simply because they are not encouraged to pursue STEM.

Many young girls are actually discouraged with words like “that’s not for girls.”

At IBM Security, we want to capture the imaginations of these students by sharing information about future opportunities in cybersecurity. We’re also committed to offering encouragement and support to counteract the social and peer pressures that discourage too many talented young women from pursuing their interests in STEM.

Girls, we run the world
Since launching IBMCyberDay4Girls, volunteers in five countries, across three continents, have proudly reached approximately 800 girls. This conservatively translates to over 1000 volunteer hours. Having started out with events in Canada and United States, IBMCyberDay4Girls has since reached girls in South Africa, Australia, and most recently, Nigeria.

Through this one-day program, girls learn about careers in cybersecurity, have a chance to meet female role models in the industry, and also learn how to protect their personal information and to build a positive digital reputation.

We teach them some cybersecurity jargon, such as phishing, malware, and ransomware, introduce them to basic threat modelling, as well as cryptography, and we play some fun games like Cyber BINGO. 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!

Typically held at an IBM location, the day often includes a visit to one of our many cool IBM spaces, such as our state-of-the-art Cyber Range in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or our interactive Watson learning facility in New York.

We’ve been able to bring IBMCyberDay4Girls to several cities with the help of some amazing partners, including Woods College - Boston College, NICE K12 2017, iKeepSafe, Nashville Technology Council, CyberNB, OpportunitiesNB, CyberTitan, CyberLaunch Academy, ICTC-CTIC, NYIT, and WiCyS 2018.

In some cases, schools are now beginning to return for the second time, bringing new groups of girls to visit us. This clearly means we're doing something right!

Thanks to security leaders at IBM, the WISE community, and numerous volunteers, we will reach at least 1000 more girls in 2018.

SkillsBuild and phenomenal women
IBM’s recent SkillsBuild announcement, challenging IBMers around the world to reach one million youth through STEM volunteering in 2018, has helped to shine a brighter light on our efforts to address the cybersecurity gender gap through youth outreach.

I’ve learned from working on IBMCyberDay4Girls that we can all make a difference. Whether in the life of a single girl, or affecting tens or hundreds of girls, your contribution matters. So, don’t sit back thinking that you cannot change the world. Together, we all can!

A parent coordinator for one of our events recently told us, “Visiting IBM and meeting all of the educated, powerful, and charismatic women who work there, changed how my young ladies see their futures. Now they want to bring coding classes to the school, they are working harder to do well and excel in math and science, and it all began because of a few hours with phenomenal women.”

Yes, you can make a difference.

We look forward to upcoming IBMCyberDay4Girls events in locations such as New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Cambridge, Fredericton (Canada), New Orleans, Portland (OR), and Lagos, Nigeria!


For over 100 years, IBMers have created positive change in the world through their day-to-day work and their service in local communities. Since 2004, nearly 300,000 IBM employees and retirees have contributed more than 20 million hours of volunteer service.


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