One of my favorite binges of late is the Netflix series Halt and Catch Fire. It’s a story about the personal computer revolution of the 1980s. The lead character, Cameron Howe, is a brilliant, self-assured young woman who runs circles around her, mostly male, co-workers, with her mad coding skills.
I remember being influenced by a similar female lead. It was Jane Craig (played by Holly Hunter) in the movie Broadcast News. As the credits rolled, I knew I wanted to be a journalist. Likewise, Cameron Howe (played by Mackenzie Davis) possesses just the right mix of courage and intellect required to spark the tech fire in girls today.
STEM and beyond
What better way to close out our National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM) series than to encourage the next generation of cybersecurity superheroes to grow their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) skills and consider a future in cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity is a rewarding career, boasting an average salary of $96,000, and yet few women pursue the field. According to The U.S. Department of Labor, employment opportunities for Information Security Analysts will grow by 28% between 2016 and 2026. It’s also predicted that 3.5 million jobs in cybersecurity will remain unfilled by 2021.
Why focus on girls? Because while the numbers are improving, in the tech field or otherwise, in 2019, women are still paid 80 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn, and 93.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are men.
If your daughter shows a talent for tech, here are a few ways to nurture that passion.
- Challenge stereotypes. Girls get steeped in pink from the moment they arrive in the delivery room. This “pinkification,” in general, experts argue, is one factor distracting girls from pursuing tech. Consider the conscious and even unconscious ways you may be deterring your daughter from pursuing traditionally male subjects such as computers, engineering, robotics, or programming. Challenge perceptions like a 2012 Girl Scouts found there’s a common belief that girls are not high achievers in math and science. However, a study by the American Association of University Women found high school girls and boys perform equally in the subjects.
- Expose her to the rock stars. Women like YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, HP’s Meg Whitman, and Google coder Marisa Mayer are great role models for girls today. Also, choose media (check ratings before viewing to stay age-appropriate) with strong female leads who excel in tough career fields.
- Ask her. How many times do we make assumptions and skip this crucial step in parenting? Ask your daughter what camps appeal most to her, what activities she enjoys, what qualities she admires most in others, and what she dreams of achieving.
- Don’t overdo it. If your daughter has a natural ability in STEM subjects, don’t push too hard. She will find her path. Suggest adjacent activities to complement her strengths. Is she good at math? Encourage a musical instrument as a hobby. Good at science? Suggest cooking or gardening to compliment her love for creative problem-solving. Integrate creative activities such as art, writing, or theatre.
- Seek out tech opportunities. Few kids will pursue experiences on their own, so consider giving them a nudge. Encourage age-appropriate camps, clubs, and activities that play to her strengths. The choices in quality camps — rocketry, science, coding, physics — are endless. Be your daughter’s tech companion. Take her to a women’s tech conference so she can begin to visualize her future and meet women who work in the field. Encourage an internship or even a job shadowing opportunity during high school or college, like this one that changed Gwendolyn’s career path.
- Model, teach resilience. The tech field tends to be a male-dominated culture of “brogrammers,” which can be intimidating for women. For this reason, your daughter may need to develop a tough skin and learn to push through obstacles with ease.
- Help her find her people. Organizations like Girls Go Cyberstart, Girls Who Code, Code.org, and uscyberpatriot.org can be game-changers for a tech-minded girl and help grow her passion among peers.
Cybersecurity is one of the fastest-growing, in-demand professions out there. With the rise in security breaches of all kinds, it’s also a field experts say is “future proof.” If your daughter shows a desire to fight the bad guys and make her mark safeguarding the digital realm, then cybersecurity may be the best place for her to start blazing her trails.