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Inspiring Girls to Consider a Career in Cybersecurity

 

November 8 is National STEM Day and CyberStart Canada is celebrating all things STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) – and celebrating girls and young women in STEM, in particular. 

Cybersecurity is evolving quickly, and building a more cybersecure world requires diversity of backgrounds, genders, education, and talents. Indeed, women have made significant strides in pursuing careers in historically male-dominated fields; but in Canada, women still make up less than 25% of people employed in STEM. 

So what’s missing? In order to attract more women into STEM-related fields, there needs to be more awareness of post-secondary and alternative educational opportunities; awareness of career possibilities; awareness of the interdisciplinary learning opportunities within STEM. 

The Catalyst launched CyberStart Canada in September 2022, in partnership with Public Safety Canada’s Cyber Security Cooperation Program and SANS Institute, specifically to introduce girls and young women to cyber. The program is aimed at high school-aged girls and non-binary students, and uses gamification to measurably improve cyber-related knowledge and skills, and increase interest in cybersecurity careers. 

In the US, 78% of STEM college students report that they decided to pursue an interest in STEM in post-secondary while in high school. Yet, a 2021 Statistics Canada study suggests that women are 29.8% less likely than men to enroll in a post-secondary STEM program after high school graduation. So, capturing young women’s curiosity about STEM subjects and making them an integral part of their educational experience will positively impact the long-term success and diversity of the talent pipeline. 

The Catalyst sat down with four professional women in the cybersecurity industry to discuss their journey into cyber. Here is what they had to say when asked:

 

What sparked your interest in cybersecurity?

  Chima: I’ve always been interested in cybersecurity; I started my career in IT infrastructure administration. However, what really sparked my interest was about two years ago when I was managing a digital platform for youth. In the midst of its success, we experienced a terrible cyber breach on the platform and had to rebuild it from scratch. It made me realize how valuable things are, all things; if they are not secured, you can lose everything. 

  Vandana: I was always curious to know what they did behind the scenes in cybersecurity. In my previous workplace, we had cybersecurity but it was just a page with a few questions. I never knew what the answers were and that made me curious to know and learn more. I have always wanted to protect young, vulnerable children and seniors. My role in cybersecurity has allowed me to do that.

  Thulasi: I got into cybersecurity while working at an auto finance company, and they were looking for someone for a security governance role. Little did I know that it was going to ignite this major interest for me. Two things in particular that sparked my interest were: (1) my love for constantly learning. Prior to being in cybersecurity, my background is in education, so I’ve always enjoyed learning new things. And; (2) my love for crime books and shows. Sometimes, depending on your role in cybersecurity, you feel like a detective in an online world. I can get bored easily, and with the cybersecurity field, there is always something to do and something to learn. The best part is that I get to bring the skills I developed from my background in education and my days in auto finance, and bring different perspectives to the field. There’s no one way of doing it. Each day is different. 

  AJ: I have an IT background focused in data. I have also been interested in the cyber side of things because it doesn’t mean that if I work in IT I know everything about cyber. Turns out there are a lot of tools, theories and practices that we have to be aware of. Cybersecurity is a growing trend. Our choices in the cyberworld today can have a ripple effect tomorrow. Cybersecurity incidents are rising, and we need to take one step forward to defend the cyberworld. We need to start somewhere, and the time to start is now.

 

Kathryn Maksym is the Project Manager for CyberStart Canada, which provides high school girls and non-binary students with free access to a beginner-friendly and enjoyable cybersecurity learning experience.