Nevertheless, a perception shift is needed. As these factors have contributed to giving young girls the impression that cybersecurity is not a welcoming field for them.
Students around the globe are becoming increasingly interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). However, for all the new STEM schools, camps and programs that are now available to them, the path to which careers they can explore someday are limited to broad terms like “doctor, scientist, and engineer.” This is a problem for underserved industries such as cybersecurity, where the cyber talent gap is very real and growing, and the skills these students are obtaining could lead them to rewarding and needed careers in Cyber. It is also a challenge because the way in which Cyber is often represented can be very off-putting, especially to girls who may consider a career in Cyber. Movies and other mass media typically portray dark and sinister cyber-attacks with males in dark hoodies. When in fact, working in Cyber is so much more about solving problems, helping organizations, industries and governments to enable progress, innovation and success.
Nevertheless, a perception shift is needed. As these factors have contributed to giving young girls the impression that cybersecurity is not a welcoming field for them. This problem can be seen in how women are underrepresented in the cyber workforce. The (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Report found that women make up less than a quarter (24 percent) of cyber employees, well short of a representative portion of half the world’s potential workforce.
Cyber professionals today need to take steps to make cyber a career aspiration for younger girls (and boys) tomorrow. We need to make more relevant the role that Cyber plays in medicine, in securing our governments, and in the latest consumer technologies. We do this through educating them on how, in today’s world, cyber is a part of every digital connection, and introduce them to the roles that cyber plays in empowering our future. There are many real examples of how cyber professionals make a difference in things like securing the remote workforce, cybersecurity of schools, and securing the research and transport of COVID-19 vaccines. Most importantly, we should introduce them to the women in cyber who are leading so many of these efforts such as female Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) to help them understand where a cyber career can take them.
The Rise of the Role Model
In a recent interview, TIME’s Kid of the Year, 15-year-old-girl scientist and innovator Gitanjali Rao, said, “It’s not easy when you don’t see anyone else like you.” This is especially true when it comes to young girls and cyber, with a Kaspersky Lab study finding that only 11 percent of young people reported having met a woman working in cybersecurity.
That statistic only elevates the importance of role models. In fact, that same Kaspersky Lab study found that of the young women who have met cyber professionals, 63 percent reported thinking more positively about a cyber career themselves. It’s important that we continue to introduce girls to these role models through programs like Girls Who Code. Deloitte has collaborated with Girls Who Code to create the Campus Program, where volunteer mentors and potential role models introduce middle and high-school aged girls to the world of coding.
It turns out role models don’t always have to be senior cyber professionals. According to a recent article about the She Can STEM campaign, to inspire more girls to enter into STEM studies and professions, the program has traditionally featured adult women in PSAs to inspire teens. But now they are taking it one step further and have begun to feature teen girls engaged in STEM activities. While making strong, senior cyber professionals available as role models is important, younger generations may just be able to inspire each other as well.
Defining a Path Forward
Role models are a powerful way to show girls what they can become, and equally as important to make sure they know where a career in cyber can take them. When first introduced to STEM, students are taught they can grow up to be a doctor or scientist, but what about a threat hunter, who’s foiling the bad guys, or a security operations center manager, protecting against billions of dollars of potential damage to companies and the economy?
By defining a clear career path in terms that are easily understandable to younger generations, we can help make cyber tangible. Cyber impacts all industries and types of roles from marketing to medicine. All students will need to understand their responsibility in keeping not only their own data secure, but that of the companies’ they work for and the customers they serve. That’s why, whether a student chooses to study communications or computer science, it’s important for them to understand how those choices could translate into a career in Cyber.
One of the biggest challenges while working to inspire young girls is the notion that cyber is just working in isolation at a computer. In reality, cyber is oftentimes the glue between the technical and business worlds and is very collaborative and team-oriented. All executives today from the CEO to the CFO to the COO must embed cybersecurity into their strategies working in close alignment with the cyber team to ensure the success and integrity of those initiatives. It’s important for younger generations to understand this, because it sparks their imaginations and broadens their range of aspirations.
The Future of Cyber
By enhancing awareness and visibility of the various job roles in cyber, and the women who do them, we can dispel the myths surrounding the cyber field and affirm that it is an area full of endless possibilities.
Let’s be the role models these girls are looking for — someone who can show them what an education in STEM and a career in Cyber can mean and how cool it can be. As Gitanjali Rao said in her TIME interview, “If I can do it, you can do it, and anybody can do it.” Let’s teach girls what cyber is all about and inspire them to get out there and do it..