With STEM You Can…Bridge the gender diversity gap in cyber
In a world grappling with the escalating threat of cyber-attacks, cyber security has emerged as a dynamic and vital profession in technology. Ransomware, phishing, and hacking incidents have disrupted the digital landscape, emphasising the need for skilled individuals.
According to a recent report by Causticizer, the Australian cyber security market is set to grow to $5.8 billion by 2024 – 8% annually. Acknowledging this growth and the urgency, the Federal Government’s REDSPICE grant has committed a substantial investment to the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to increase Australia’s cyber capabilities.
However, it’s a field that often lacks diversity. Women hold only 25% of cybersecurity jobs globally in 2022, up from 20% in 2019 and around 10% in 2013, according to the Women in Cybersecurity Report 2022.
This is despite girls outperforming boys in tech-based subjects at school, as highlighted by the 2020 National Assessment Program ICT Literacy report (NAP), released by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority.
Breaking barriers and expanding perspectives
The CyberTaipan Young Women’s Career Tour seeks to fill this gap by providing passionate young minds with female role models in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Sixteen high-school students from six different states and territories embarked on a journey earlier this year to learn, connect and explore the cyber security landscape.
Led by CSIRO and funded by the ASD with support from Services Australia and the Australian National University, the tour provided students with real-world exposure to cyber security jobs and potential employers in the field.
CyberTaipan tour organiser Abby Hodges says it’s vital to show students the variety and opportunities that cyber security can offer. “If these young individuals can see people like themselves then this can help break future stereotypes and diversify the field,” Abby notes.
One of the standout outcomes from the tour was the shift in students’ interests. At the beginning of the tour, a mere 25% displayed a strong inclination towards pursuing cyber security careers. Afterwards, this number increased to 75%.
Evangeline Endacott, a cyber defence analytics researcher at Commonwealth Bank and a speaker at the event, highlights the importance of showcasing less visible STEM career opportunities and empowering students to pursue them.
“Growing up in regional New South Wales, I didn’t have any role models or know anyone working in STEM. A similar experience to the camp changed the trajectory of my career and life,” Evangeline explains. “I wanted to play that critical role for others. I was also excited by the depth of diversity, from cultural backgrounds to geographic locations.”
Fostering student ambitions
The tour included a range of activities, from behind-the-scenes tours of government cyber security facilities at Services Australia to hands-on technical workshops at the ANU-ASD Co-Lab and inspiring talks by accomplished female cyber security professionals from Commonwealth Bank and the ANU School of Cybernetics.
Students, many of whom were initially unsure of their career options left with clear ambitions. For instance, one student said they’d like to become a “cryptologist, defensive hacker or cyber analyst.” Another envisioned a career as a “penetration tester,” even specifying the Australian Space Agency.
When asked about the tour’s most valuable aspect, one student says: “Learning about the career options that you couldn’t find out about otherwise.” Among the group, a sentiment that particularly resonates is, “I like how STEM connects to cyber. There will always be ways to get into cyber, and you [don’t need] a PhD or Masters.”
Inspiring future cyber leaders
The CyberTaipan Young Women’s Career Tour achieved what it set out to do – inspire, educate, and transform. Through engagement and interactions, the tour linked knowledge to application, emphasising the vital role and diversity of STEM education and skills in cyber security.
By understanding the varied careers, real-world insights, and meeting role models, the initiative has sparked curiosity in these young minds. As they return to their schools and communities, they carry a newfound interest in cyber security that could shape the field’s future.
“Exposure and visibility are essential to promote STEM careers, especially amongst women and girls. Demystifying the stigma of what STEM professionals look like is so important,” Evangeline explains. “Women are amazing multi-talented problem solvers. We need more in this space to keep shaping and changing the world.”