On Tuesday, October 24th, representatives from the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) and Palo Alto Networks (Security Roundtable’s parent company) gathered at the Russell Senate Office Building, Kennedy Caucus Room in Washington, D.C., to celebrate their collaboration, designed to inspire the next generation of female cybersecurity professionals. The event, sponsored by a bipartisan group of members of Congress and called “Cybersecurity Day on the Hill,” was part of National Cyber Security Awareness Month.
The historic Kennedy room – scene of the Watergate break-in hearings and the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas, to name a few – seemed a fitting venue for the gathering, which announced the creation of first-ever national GSUSA badges for girls in grades K-12. Led by a team of expert cybersecurity advisers, the two organizations expect to roll out the first in the series of badges throughout the country in September 2018.
According to the latest Cybersecurity Jobs Report by Cybersecurity Ventures, the worldwide deficit of qualified cybersecurity professionals will reach 3.5 million by 2021. What’s more, another study of women in cybersecurity shows that women remain vastly underrepresented in the industry, holding just 11 percent of jobs globally. GSUSA CEO Sylvia Acevedo believes her organization and this collaboration are great places to begin rectifying this problem. With a current membership of over 2.6 million across the United States, the Girl Scouts is an organization that reaches every zip code in the country. It also boasts a proven approach to empowering young women, maintains Acevedo, through leadership development, community service, and education – all of which could be key to pulling more women into the cybersecurity field.
“One of the motivating factors in my becoming an engineer and a rocket scientist was my Girl Scout experience,” said Acevedo. “That’s why I’m thrilled with the prospect of encouraging girls to fully embrace the possibilities of STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] and to focus on an issue of major national importance.”
Said Palo Alto Networks chairman and CEO Mark McLaughlin, “Our collaboration with the Girl Scouts of the USA provides girls with access to cybersecurity education and mentors who can guide them toward career opportunities that they might never have otherwise known existed.”
Through a close partnership, both sides have helped form the badge curriculum that will introduce Scouts across the country to the cyber field. At the event, girls of varying ages in different-colored vests crowded around tables, learning how to track trace routes with the help of Palo Alto Networks experts. Once the exercise was finished, high-fives and other celebratory signs could be seen throughout the room.
Before the leaders of both the Girl Scouts and Palo Alto Networks organizations spoke to the crowd, there were visits from supporters Reps. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-Ga.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). Both spoke to the importance of providing young women with the training and opportunities to pursue careers in the cybersecurity and STEM fields. Carter, serving the district in which the Girl Scouts organization was founded, added that cybersecurity is a growing issue for our national security. When all the speaking was done, Scouts CEO Acevedo made sure to ceremoniously pin both politicians, making them official Girl Scouts for life.
It was clear that the support for the Girl Scouts’ mission was viewed as an imperative, not only for the advancement of Scouting and to help add to a workforce in desperate need, but as a way for these women to serve the United States by hopefully becoming cyber defenders. By learning to protect their data through badges emphasizing cyber literacy, Scouts will, in turn, be in a position to make our country safer.
Palo Alto Networks CEO Mark McLaughlin noted that educating young girls about cybersecurity and the importance of being safe online is to all our benefit. Scouts CEO Acevedo added, “We want to make sure that girls are the designers, creators, and makers of technology.” These badges address a need that Acevedo has seen for some time – “Girls wanted to know how to protect their data online, how to be safe online.” These badges will help to accomplish just that.
How can businesses incorporate a similar approach to helping cultivate a diverse next class of security workers? Palo Alto Networks McLaughlin thinks there are limitless possibilities. Volunteering in schools, offering internships, and investing in education are just a few ways companies can contribute. It’s up to the leadership of every organization to make an individualized outreach plan and stick to it – the future of the industry depends on it.
Introducing cybersecurity and STEM to girls at a young age is an integral part of forming the next generation of cybercrime fighters. You can learn more here about the partnership of the Girl Scouts and Palo Alto Networks.