"Diversity in perspectives, leadership and experience is good for cyber.  The wider variety of people and experience we have defending our systems, the better chances of keeping the UK safe" Evie, age 13

Making its debut in November 2019 the EmPowerCyber event was run with the vision of empowering girls to consider cyber careers and to encourage girls into considering computer science as a future qualification and enter the CyberFirst Girls Competiton (which opened last week!!). This blog shares our key learning from the event and hopes to showcase that at its core the cyber industry is about people, and the relationships between people.

As well as the Socio-technical Engagement Manager for Cygenta, I work one day a week as the Industry Engagement Co-ordinator for the National Cyber Security Centre’s Cyber Schools Hub initiative. As part of this role I work extremely closely with teachers; EmPowerCyber stemmed from my relationship with Emma Williams at Wyedean School and we worked closely as a team (the dream team!) to make it happen. We decided, go big or go home…we wanted to reach a huge number of students in one day!

EmPowerCyber featured 800 Girls from 20 schools, 14 industries, 2 universities and 2 keynote speakers (Dr Jessica Barker, Cygenta co-founder and Jacqui Chard, NCSC Deputy Director). Over half of the schools attending had not previously entered the CyberFirst girls competition and many of them don’t currently teach computer science at school. This was a really exciting prospect as we were able to engage and enthuse students who haven’t and potentially wouldn’t have been exposed to cybersecurity. The event took a lot of work, but it more than paid off: seeing the engagement and enthusiasm on the day was so rewarding.

‘I only came to get a day off school, but I’m so happy I did, today has been challenging and so fun. Cybersecurity is really interesting’

Grit, curiosity and the hidden powers of children should never be underestimated. When planning this event, it was clear that industries wanted to invest in transforming the future life choices of children.  They wanted to make a difference and show possibilities.  All industries listened to the needs of the students.  They empowered year 9 students to provide the ideas for the workshops and tested these workshops on them before the event. This ensured that the workshops were developed with the target audience needs at the core. These same students formed the engagement and tech support throughout the event; providing the support and knowledge to connect with the girls.  They were cyber champions!

Empowered girls empower others…the event clearly highlighted what happens when girls are encouraged to support each other and aspirations are raised. The girls wanted to work across schools and mix. It showed how powerful girls can be if we remove barriers and encourage them to work together. It is what the industry needs to develop diversity in perspectives, leadership and experiences in cyber. Having the girls surrounded by cyber role models allowed the girls to see the possibilities. The events demonstrated that everyone is a role model to children. Students were not only motivated and inspired by the industries but by one another as well.   The invested interest in their futures encouraged the girls to be the best that they could be and to consider possibilities  in cyber that they had never been exposed to.

The girls experienced some incredible workshops from coding drones, ohbots and spheros to hacking WiFi, cryptography challenges and cybersecurity ethics workshops. All of the industries involved delivered incredibly engaging workshops. Initiatives like the Cyber Schools Hub are so lucky to have dedicated and inspiring industries supporting the next generation.  Special thanks to CGI, Infrastar, UWE, USW, Sopra Steria, Raytheon, NCSC, Dr Jessica Barker, Cygenta, Ohbot, BAE systems, Cyber Security Associates, SWRCCU, Northrop Grumman, Deloitee, Deep3, Amiosec, QA Training, Vimto, UoG, All Cooper and Lockheed Martin.

The power of relationships is what made this event a success, the relationships formed between the industries, universities, students and cyber schools hub team transformed the learning experiences of all. There was a true sense of empowerment with everyone sharing the same goal of showing that the possibilities in Cyber are accessible to all.  We would not have been able to plan or implement the event, if it wasn’t for the help and support of each and every university and industry.  Their commitment to teaching and modelling possibilities will transform the future generations of Cyber.

Throughout the day, smiles and inquisitive faces could be seen around the hall. The event was a huge success, girls had fun, were challenged, learnt something new and were inspired into considering cybersecurity as a feature career.

If this event was anything to go by, the future generation of cybersecurity professionals looks bright.