What Cybersecurity Badges for Girl Scouts Mean for Women in Cybersecurity

by Kim Foster

March 8, 2018

access_time 6 min read

It’s no secret that cybersecurity is receiving more global attention than ever before, and enterprises are rightfully concerned if they are training enough security professionals to meet growing security threats. While this concern is felt across the business world, many did not expect Girl Scouts to hear the call.

Source: Lorain International Festival opening ceremonies

Starting this fall, millions of Girl Scouts nationwide have the opportunity to earn cybersecurity badges. Girl Scouts of the USA teamed up with security company (and Ziften tech partner) Palo Alto Networks to create a curriculum that educates young girls about the basics of computer security. According to Sylvia Acevedo, CEO of GSUSA, they created the program based on demand from the girls themselves to protect themselves, their computers, and their family networks.

The timing is good, since according to a study released in 2017 by (ISC)², 1.8 million cybersecurity positions will be unfilled by 2022. Combine increased demand for security pros with stagnant growth for women—only 11 percent for the past several years—our cybersecurity staffing troubles are poised to worsen without significant effort on behalf of the industry for better inclusion.

Of course, we can’t rely on the Girl Scouts to do all of the heavy lifting. Broader educational efforts are a must: according to the Computing Technology Industry Association, 69 percent of U.S. women who do not have a career in information technology cited not knowing what opportunities were available to them as the reason they did not pursue one. One of the great untapped opportunities of our industry is the recruitment of more diverse professionals. Targeted educational programs and increased awareness should be high priority. Raytheon’s Women Cyber Security Scholarship is a good example.

To reap the rewards of having women invested in shaping the future of technology, it’s important to dispel the exclusionary perception of “the boys’ club” and remember the groundbreaking contributions made by women of the past. Many know that the first computer programmer was a woman—Ada Lovelace. Then there is the work of other famous pioneers such as Grace Hopper, Hedy Lamarr, or Ida Rhodes, all who may evoke some vague recollection among those in our industry. Female mathematicians created programs for one of the world's first fully electronic general-purpose computers: Kay McNulty, Jean Jennings Bartik, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Meltzer, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman were just a few of the very first programmers of the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (better known as ENIAC), though their important work was not widely recognized for over 50 years. In fact, when historians first found photos of the women in the mid-1980s, they mistook them for “Refrigerator Ladies”—models posing in front of the machines.

Source: U Penn

It’s worth noting that many believe the same “boys’ club” mentality that overlooked the accomplishments of women in history has resulted in limited leadership positions and lower salaries for modern women in cybersecurity, as well as outright exclusion of female luminaries from speaking opportunities at industry conferences. As trends go, excluding bright people with applicable knowledge from influencing the cybersecurity industry is an unsustainable one if we hope to keep up with the bad guys.

Whether or not we collectively take action to foster more inclusive workplaces—like educating, recruiting, and promoting women in greater numbers—it is heartening to see an organization synonymous with fundraiser cookies effectively alert an entire industry to the fact that girls are genuinely interested in the field. As the Girls Scouts of today are given the tools to pursue a career in information security, we should anticipate that they will become the very women who eventually reprogram our expectations of what a cybersecurity expert looks like.