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Can the Girl Scouts STEM the Skills Gap?

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There’s a gender gap in the cybersecurity workforce, and some unlikely organizations are looking for ways to address immediate needs and plan for future growth.

You’re no doubt aware of the looming skills gap in the security field: A 2017 report by research organization Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that there will be 3.5 million cybersecurity job openings by 2021. To make matters even worse, women account for just 11 percent of cybersecurity professionals worldwide, according to a 2017 study from business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

Could the Girl Scouts’ new science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) badge program help stem the information security gap?

Frequent SecurityIntelligence podcast host Mitch Mayne dives into this question in a new podcast with Kymberly Miller, Senior Director of Program at Girl Scouts of Northern California; Jean Fahy, STEM Program Director at Girl Scouts of Northern California; and Heather Ricciuto, Academic Outreach Leader at IBM Security.

Girl Scouts and the Gender Gap

Girl Scouts’ leadership recognized in 2016 that “understanding cybersecurity and knowing how to prevent hacks is a life skill,” and began developing a STEM program that would both educate girls about basic cyber skills and lay the foundation for potential STEM careers, Fahy explained.

Miller pointed to the Girl Scouts’ girls-only environment as critical: By age 6, many girls start to believe that boys are smarter — and may shy away from trying new things for fear of failure. The STEM badge program provides both hands-on experience and direct reinforcement from instructors to help boost girls’ confidence in their skills and abilities.

STEM Solutions

The Girl Scouts’ new program offers 23 badges for STEM-related activities, such as creating algorithms, designing robots and collecting environmental data. Concepts — rather than computers — are the focus, Fahy stressed. Girls may learn the basics of binary code, for example, or simulate the behavior of data transfer across a network.

The STEM focus is already paying dividends: A 2017 Girl Scout Research Institute study reported that Girl Scouts are almost twice as likely as non-Scouts (60 percent versus 35 percent) to participate in STEM activities. What’s more, 77 percent of those involved consider a career in technology. Further, look at the all-girls Space Cookies Robotics team: One hundred percent of girls in this NASA and Girl Scouts program go on to college, and 90 percent pursue STEM careers.

The new Girl Scouts badge program is ultimately about “filling the funnel” by boosting girls’ confidence, allowing them to seek challenges without fear of failure and empowering them to help stem the cyber skills gap.

Learn more about Girl Scouts of Northern California, including how to make a donation or become a volunteer. And as Mitch emphasized, don’t miss your chance to help support programs like the STEM initiative by buying your favorite Girl Scout cookies every February!

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