As the proliferation of digital technologies continues, cybersecurity’s importance will only increase – there’s a direct correlation between our use of devices and the deployment of digital technologies and the need for improved security.
This increased need for cybersecurity translates directly to the need for cybersecurity-focused professionals, as numerous reports over the past few years have highlighted that several million positions will need to be filled in the not-too-distant future.
To more effectively bridge the cybersecurity job gap, we should look towards a particularly underrepresented group in STEM – young women and girls.
The Cybersecurity Pros of Tomorrow
Today’s youth are the most digital native generation in the history of humanity. However, despite this, younger individuals comprise one of the most vulnerable demographics of users due to their practices, such as having a tendency to be freer in terms of what they share about themselves with strangers, making them prime targets for criminals to attempt to exploit.
Engaging young women and girls in cybersecurity-focused disciplines not only serves address this problem directly by helping educate them to enable them to protect themselves, but it also presents an opportunity to harness their experiences and unique perspectives to understand possible scenarios criminals are capitalizing on. It’s this diversity of thought that will help us as a means of deterring bad actors by anticipating their behavior and by placing individuals who have had relevant personal experiences with bad actors in positions to protect other individuals from future attacks.
Beyond this, women and young girls are predominantly attracted to disciplines that help people and our society.
By educating this demographic on how cyberattacks can cause harm, educators will be able to more effectively encourage young women and girls to envision themselves as protectors and enlist them to become cybersecurity superheroes.
By seeing the immediate impact they and their peers can have on the world and other individuals by using security technology, more young women girls will want to pursue careers in these areas – and, in turn, these individuals have the capacity to wind up as future advocates for additional diversity and inclusion in STEM, having had positive experiences in relevant fields themselves.
The Keys to Engagement
To better engage young women and girls in STEM to bridge the job gap in cybersecurity, educators should utilize the following strategies:
- Find new and unique ways of connecting students to the larger societal issues they care about. More specifically, make a concerted effort to continuously stress the impact young women and girls can have on issues that they’re personally invested in by using and developing security-focused technologies.
- Explore topics from students’ perspectives as opposed to introducing and approaching problems from a theoretical bottom-up approach, which can be confusing – this approach will enable educators to better engage students, resulting in a deeper understanding of technological concepts that might be otherwise hard to grasp.
- Utilize cybersecurity education as a means of also educating women and young girls on technologies like Artificial Intelligence, cloud computing, image and signal processing and a slew of other engineering topics – these will serve as fundamental building blocks, which women and young girls will be able to expand upon when analyzing cause-effect scenarios of crises and developing new security protocols that can monitor situations in real time and create cost-effective early intervention solutions.
- Focus on broader themes in addition to technical concepts. For example, when engaging students on phishing, educators should highlight bad actors’ strategies and how these scams work on a more conceptual level in addition to focusing on the specific technological aspects of such a tactic. By having students analyze and discuss potential solutions in functional ways, they’ll be empowered to expand and break down challenges into more digestible and less intimidating problems, ensuring that knowledge gaps are covered – a critical component of engaging young women and girls in STEM.
Effectively engaging women and young girls in STEM in the aforementioned ways will effectively boost their confidence in their skills, laying the groundwork for future technology leaders who will make seminal contributions to advancing cybersecurity in all arenas.