In Ian Levy’s recent blog, he finished by saying it would be good to start CyberUK ‘18 with some output metrics. So I thought I’d get in early and highlight some great work we are already doing to encourage more young women to consider a career in cyber.
With only 10% of cyber security roles occupied by women, it’s very clear that we are missing out on a huge pool of talent. The reasons are many and varied and there will be people much better placed to discuss these in future blogs but we know there’s a problem and we were keen to try something specifically aimed at young girls.
So what did we do?
In 2016 we tried out a few things just to test the water. We ran 4 CyberFirst girl development days at the Universities of Edinburgh Napier, Bradford, Worcester and Bournemouth. Aimed at 13-15 year olds, attendees were treated to inspirational female technology speakers and a host of really engaging hands-on cyber activities and challenges.
We reached out to around 400 girls from across the UK and were really encouraged by how competent and interested they were in cyber, and also how - in an all female environment - they felt able to express themselves fully and try new stuff.
This gave us the confidence to push ahead with the CyberFirst Girls Competition in 2017. Working through schools and again aimed at 13-15 year old girls; teams of up to 4 entered an online competition, with the top ten teams invited to the grand final in London. And what a fantastic competition it turned out to be.
We were hoping for between 200-300 teams to enter the online phase. You can imagine our surprise when we had over 2,000 teams involving over 8,000 girls. At one stage, we were averaging 30,000 answers submitted every 24hrs, with the first answer submitted 1 minute after midnight on 27th Feb.
These girls were keen. And not only keen but exceptionally good, with one of the teams completing a challenge based on a 3 rotor enigma.
With the top ten teams identified and invited to London, we made the finishing touches to the Grand Final challenges and set off to London to transform Lancaster House. For those of you unfamiliar with Lancaster House – wow! It was used for the recent drama ‘The Crown’. Someone obviously said to the palace interior decorator ‘there’s not enough gold here’ because everywhere you looked it had lashings of gold bling. Throw in some amazing artwork, 40 laptops, audio visual kit, wifi and it was quickly transformed into the most expensive IT room in the UK (with ability to write all over the desks viewed as especially cool).
So the girls arrived, checked out the accommodation and then got stuck into the competition. The intensity on display was unbelievable. The teams were totally focused and soon began to rack up the scores on the live leader board. Throughout the day, the teams were encouraged by inspirational women who care passionately about providing young girls with every opportunity to reach their full potential in life. We are particularly grateful to Nicola Hodson (Microsoft), Dido Harding (Talk Talk), Sian John (Symantec), Jacqueline de Rojas (Tech UK) and Miriam Gonzalez ( Inspiring Girls International) who all gave up their time to chat and encourage the girls.
Was it all worth it?
We think so but here are a few comments from teachers at the event.
‘I didn’t really get a chance to thank you and everyone else properly yesterday. It has been career changing for some of my students, even those not in the final……… I have attended a few competitions with students over the years and won a few along the way, but the sheer scale of the effort that went into this one is staggering. But it really showed and it really had an impact. As I said to my students, best day at work ever!’ Lancaster Girls Grammar School
‘I can only reiterate what I said yesterday, that it was a fantastic competition, both online aspects and the final. The girls thoroughly enjoyed themselves throughout and were very pleased to have been placed third. The quality of the tasks and the thought that went into them was very impressive – you’ve certainly set the bar high for the future!’ Oxford High School
It only leaves me to add my congratulations to all the teams who entered and especially to those girls who made the final. There’s much more work to do in this area to redress the gender imbalance in cyber security but initiatives like this have an important part to play. If you want to know more and would like to contribute to next year’s competition (oops! The secret is out), then please get in touch – we would love to hear from you.
Cyber Skills and Growth