September 10, 2018 By Valerie Lanzone 3 min read

In high school, I was a grade ahead in math. When most of my class was taking algebra, I was in Advanced Placement (AP) statistics; when they were in trigonometry, I was in AP calculus. However, I was not without a cohort. I had been moving along this academic path with the same group since kindergarten — six boys and me, the only girl in the bunch.

Although I excelled academically, I was told repeatedly by peers and teachers that I would never be as good as the boys when it came to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The people that I looked up to most said STEM wasn’t for me, or that I would be better at other things — and over time, I came to believe it. Eventually, the chorus of voices in my head telling me “no” won. So, I pursued other interests and actively resisted the pull to the world of technology. Despite this, I found myself working in cybersecurity for IBM after college, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have finally shut those voices up.

Supporting the Next Generation of Women in Security

Unfortunately, my story is similar to that of many women interested in STEM fields. It’s particularly grim in our industry, with women in security comprising only 11 percent of the workforce, and even fewer in technical roles. With an estimated 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by 2021, according to Cybersecurity Ventures, we can’t afford to let this trend continue. IBM Security is working to close both the skills and gender gaps through two outreach programs: IBM Cyber Day 4 Girls and IBM Cyber Day for Collegiate Women.

IBM Cyber Day 4 Girls is a global program dedicated to educating middle school and high school girls about cybersecurity. Since 2016, IBM has hosted Cyber Day 4 Girls events in the U.S., Canada, Australia, South Africa, Nigeria and, most recently, Argentina to promote cybersecurity education. During these events, girls spend a full day seeing what it’s like to work in technology while getting exposure to the Internet of Things (IoT), participating in group activities such as basic threat modeling, tackling issues like cyberbullying, and hearing from women in security about their lives and experiences.

How IBM Is Closing the Gender Gap

I’ve had the opportunity to attend several of our IBM Cyber Days 4 Girls at the IBM Security headquarters in Cambridge. Each time, I am humbled and inspired by the passion and excitement of the young ladies as they laugh while trying to guess each other’s passwords and learn how to protect their online identities. We set out this year with a goal of reaching 1,000 girls, and we’ve already reached 665 with four months to go.

This fall, we are once again extending our initiative to undergraduates through IBM Cyber Day for Collegiate Women beginning on Sept. 12 in Atlanta, with additional sessions in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Austin, Texas; and Dublin. This series of half-day seminars will include enlightening talks by industry experts, opportunities to network with role models and the chance to request curriculum vitae feedback. These Cyber Days for Collegiate Women are designed to encourage female students to enter the exciting field of cybersecurity.

Making a Difference, One Student at a Time

As a young technology professional who was once so fervently discouraged from pursuing STEM, I am proud to be part of the amazing team of women driving this societal shift in cybersecurity. I am motivated to support this initiative by the immediate impact I have seen on students — not just as a young woman making my start in tech, but as the big sister of a high school freshman. I’m honored to be part of a program that can support girls like her, a resource that I didn’t have when I was her age.

We have the power to make a difference one event and one student at a time. Through programs such as Cyber Day 4 Girls and Cyber Day for Collegiate Women, there is now a voice cheering girls on, supporting their curiosities and encouraging them to pursue interests in STEM.

Learn more about IBM Cyber Days for Collegiate Women

For more updates about current events, follow us on Twitter using the hashtag #IBMCyberDay4Girls.

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