Cybersecurity is everyone’s problem, regardless of gender. The individual safety and national security of men and women alike are at risk from increasingly sophisticated — and frequent — cyberattacks across industries, including finance, communications, law, medicine and defense.
So why are women so underrepresented in the field, making up only 20 percent of the cybersecurity workforce?
We need dynamic and ambitious solutions to the cyber problem, and it is a loss for everyone that more women are not pursuing this important work. The fact is, girls — half of our future adult population — represent a great untapped resource, for Colorado and our nation.
Because of the huge need for people who can do this work, it’s critical that we cultivate a diverse talent pool and that we encourage girls from a young age to embrace STEM and all the opportunities available in these fields, especially cybersecurity.
This is not simply because of the need for more cyber-aware citizens right now: by 2021, there will be 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs that can’t be filled, while cyber threats are increasing every day.
The basics of American banking, government, and personal technology systems are at continual risk of being compromised. That’s why Girl Scouts — the largest girl leadership development organization in the world — is committed to bringing more girls across Colorado and the entire country into the cybersecurity pipeline.
In April, the two of us had the privilege of speaking at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Joint Cybersecurity Summit in Colorado Springs, where the top leadership of the U.S. military and the NSA gathered to develop strategies and tactics to better safeguard our national security.
One of the takeaways from this summit was the importance of reaching K-12 students with cyber education and increasing their familiarity and ease with everyday cybersecurity terminology.
Congress has a critical role to play in supporting legislation that encourage scientific entrepreneurship and promotes diversity in STEM fields — because when we invest in federal research and development in support of our nation’s youth, we’re investing in our country, our people and our ideas.
The American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (authored by Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, and Gary Peters, D-Michigan, and signed into law by President Obama) was a landmark victory and represented a major update to federal research and technology policy.
These updates were aimed at encouraging greater participation in STEM of women, minorities and other underrepresented groups along with increasing federal investments in basic scientific research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Going forward, it’s our hope that America’s technology policies will be constantly sharpened and reevaluated. Keeping our nation up-to-date to combat national security threats will require support from a broad coalition of policymakers, research community members, educators and organizations like the Girl Scouts.
Girl Scouts recognizes the need for engaging girls from a young age in critical cybersecurity topics and has been taking the lead in bringing compelling cybersecurity programming to girls in every ZIP code across the country.
Last fall, in partnership with Palo Alto Networks, GirlScouts launched badges for girls in K-5, and in the first six months of this curriculum being available, 45,000 cyber badges were earned.
The goal of the program is to introduce age-appropriate projects and activities that offer girls hands-on experiences in everything from computer networks to online safety and privacy principles, the importance of skepticism and vigilance, the dangers of phishing and malware, and how to protect their identities, share information safely, and use their powers of observation to investigate cybercrime.
Girl Scouts is currently working on new programming in cybersecurity for older girls to explore data protection, the ethics of hacking, cyber warfare, trace routes, and more.
The river that runs through the many cybersecurity battlegrounds we must face is patriotism: we need a cybersecurity workforce full of people with a deep and abiding love of country.
This work cannot be outsourced to another country as we do our electronics manufacturing or our call centers. We need Americans, in America, to be stepping up to the plate.
That’s another reason why Girl Scouts is a solution to the cybersecurity talent shortage. Because the Girl Scout experience is infused with a spirit of civic responsibility, girls understand that they are an important part of their community and that they have the power to protect it.
They can create opportunities, take action locally, and fight for causes they believe in. Girl Scouts are the patriots we need in this fight.
It’s so exciting to think about our girls, who today are learning the good they can do with cybersecurity skills, making up the next generation of cyber fighters.
America’s cybersecurity workforce challenge is also an incredible opportunity — for girls, for Colorado, and for the country.
Cory Gardner is a Republican U.S. Senator representing Colorado. Sylvia Acevedo is CEO of the Girl Scouts.