Priming the pipeline: Education
Priming the pipeline: Education
”We need to spread awareness to both teachers and parents that cybersecurity is a fun and thriving career option that is ideal for all genders,” Craven says. “I also believe that assuming certain gender-based roles as an undertone of our society can discourage women from getting involved in tech.”

Craven says there are generations of teachers, firefighters and law enforcement officers, but high-tech and specifically IT security positions are still in their first generation of development.

“Children don't know how their phone or iPad works,” Craven (left) says. “They don't realize there are a lot of people behind the design of the tools and games they use every day. And they don't imagine that someday they could do the same thing. We need to shed a light on these exciting, hidden careers.”

A lack of outreach efforts were also cited as reasons that women are discouraged to go into cyber careers.

“It's not a natural career path for them to look into,” Judge says, adding that it's important to also show women that a lot of the opportunities in cybersecurity aren't solely technical. “You don't have to be a hacker and there are other ways for women to get involved in cybersecurity, such as by teaching best practices," she says.

Teachers should be looking at aptitude tests and informing kids who enjoy problem-solving that there are opportunities in cybersecurity, Judge says. It's important that children understand that they don't have to be experts to pursue a career in the field and there are certificate programs that people can do to get into the field without having to go to school four years for a traditional degree.

“There are really interesting problems to solve if you like solving puzzles and want to apply that to real world problems, you can apply that to the real thing in STEM careers, says Phyllis Frankl, a computer science and engineering professor at New York University.

Further, Judge notes that many capture-the-flag competitions and coding camps are significantly cheaper than robotics clubs and that some organizations even offer free admission to all-girl teams.

Thuraisingham adds that coding camps for girls are a good idea because it provides an environment where girls focus completely on their work without being intimidated by boys. These programs also help dispel the myths and stereotypes that surround hackers and computer scientists and can show women that there is a place for them in the industry.

“While some improvements are being made in big cities, we are failing our children, especially girls, in the rural areas,” Thuraisingham says. “It is frustrating that there is no funding for educating rural America. When there is a lack of resources, parents usually tend to favor the sons and spend the money on the boy's education.

Thuraisingham adds that high quality affordable education should be a right of every child, pointing out that higher education funding is also an obstacle to meeting cybersecurity needs and in diversifying the workforce. In fact, she says many students don't pursue upper level degrees out of fear of taking on more debt in student loans and if more tech companies were willing to share the cost of graduate-level education, then more students, including women, would be willing to go into the field.

Some researchers argue that it's the private sector's responsibility to pitch in on these early education efforts.

“Tech companies have a responsibility to engage people in technology at every stage of their lives,” Zassmin Montes de Oca, a board vice chair and chief technology officer at Women Who Code, tells SC Media.

de Oca says it's important to provide support to career-aged engineers by recognizing the accomplishments of the women who are already in the industry and encouraging them to succeed.

“In order to change the industry, we need to alter the way that people perceive technology,” de Oca (right) says. “The best way to do that is to recognize the accomplishments of the many diverse engineers that are already leaders and heroes of tech, while also encouraging others and providing them with the tools to become the role models of tomorrow.”

Some researchers feel that while tech companies may support individual efforts to get more women involved in security, it's important to understand that they have a business to run. “They don't care where you come from provided you can do the job,” Thuraisingham says. “Therefore, the incentive is not there for them to nurture U.S. citizens in tech. This is because there are thousands of highly qualified men and women in tech who can fill the positions they have.”

Researchers also emphasize the importance of breaking stereotypes as well as the need for making tech feel more inclusive. Frankl, for instance, emphasizes that while women have made significant progress in other traditionally male fields, such as medicine and other sciences, girls interested in tech are still thought of as the nerdy outcast. On top of this, there isn't a heavy portrayal of women in tech in the media.

 “Some say women are disinterested in tech, this isn't true” Frankl says. “They use it all the time and just haven't had the opportunity to see themselves as the creators of tech or to understand how they can solve problems dealing with poverty and health care by using tech.”

Most importantly, we need to make an effort and take the extra step to support and encourage young people of all backgrounds and let them know that there is a place for them in tech and cybersecurity. “We need to encourage them to be who they strive and want to be!” Sargent says. “Encourage and push these wonderful programs to get them involved. Most of all we need to love them and let them know they're capable of anything they put their minds to.