US Girl Scouts can start earning cybersecurity badges next year, thanks to an effort by the Girl Scouts of America and cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks. The youth organisation came up with the idea simply by asking Scouts what they want. And the girls want to hack.
"We surveyed a lot of girls," Girl Scouts CEO Sylvia Acevedo told Gizmodo. "In those evaluations, girls repeatedly said they wanted more computer science and they were really interested in cybersecurity in terms of protecting themselves online. Bullying is a big issue. Also figuring out hackathons, they wanted to do that as well."
The badges are already two years in the making, and they won't become available until spring 2018. There will be 18 unique badges, for Scouts from the Daisy level (who can be as young as five years old) all the way up to Ambassadors (18 years old).
The suite of cybersecurity badges are intended to teach girls how to stay safe online and to encourage them to take jobs in the cybersecurity industry, where women are underrepresented. The Girl Scouts have been rolling out new badges for a number of STEM fields in response to high demand from girls in the program.
Rick Howard, the chief security officer at Palo Alto Networks, says women are underrepresented in the tech industry, but particularly in cybersecurity. Gizmodo spoke to him while he was attending an industry conference, and he noted how few women he'd seen at the event.
"We are encouraging the Girl Scouts that this could be a profession for them — something they might love, they might pursue, they can have a meaningful life in this career as they grow up. We are trying to fill that employee pipeline in the future," Howard said.
Cybersecurity companies aren't alone in complaining that there aren't enough diverse job candidates in the pipeline — it's an excuse the tech industry as a whole uses to explain why its workforce is predominantly white and male.
But with more than two million girls participating in Girl Scouts, the cybersecurity badges are an opportunity to educate a massive group of young women and hopefully pique their interest in tech.