Where to start? As a young girl, I loved school, loved all my subjects. I was the kid that played school the day we got out for summer break. I loved to read, but I really loved math – that is until high school. After school one afternoon my math teacher stood in front of my parents and headmaster and accused me of being a cancer on the class – an illness that was spreading unchecked because I had challenged his math when he was wrong. The headmaster didn’t say anything, but I heard a very loud message that day: it was better to be quiet than speaking up when right. That teacher was fired at the end of the school year, but the damage was done.
Recently, Alanna Petroff wrote an article for CNN “The exact age when girls lose interest in sciences and math.” She cites a survey Microsoft ran across 12 countries and 11,500 girls in Europe. According to the results, girls show interest in STEM related subjects starting at age 11, but by age 15 they quickly lose interest, and more importantly, they rarely gain interest back like they do in Humanities. The conclusion is that we only have 4-5 years to nurture girls’ passion in STEM subjects. And to exacerbate the situation, we are fighting conformity to social expectations, and gender stereotypes – it’s systemic.
GRIT – Girls Re-Imagining Tomorrow
And now we have the premise for GRIT, the joint initiative between Cisco and ePlus, and the brainchild of ePlus’ Security and EN Practice Lead, Wanda Castelvecchi. Answering the question, “How can we affect change in young girls to want to seek STEM fields, namely cyber security, where the shortage is even greater, GRIT was built as a platform to empower young girls to become Cyber Warriors, and more importantly, to empower them to be strong, confident young women.
We teach both our curriculum and soft skills equally, building both the girls’ knowledge and self-awareness. We expose these girls to strong women role models, many of whom serve as mentors, helping continue relationships following program completion. We watch these girls grow over the course of the semester. One of our graduates last year wrote; “Thank you so much for being part of the reason why I was able to step out of my comfort zone, meet new people, engage in conversation, eat some great food, and feel empowered about being a girl interested in STEM.”
In January, we welcomed our newest cohorts of GRIT girls. We are helping re-image a tomorrow for this next generation of leaders. Hopefully we are nudging them toward a future in Cyber Security. More importantly, we hope we are helping them build on the confidence they are continuing to discover they have. These girls are strong – we plan on holding their hands as they pave the way for tomorrow.
For more information on GRIT, please check out Wanda Castelvecchi’s blog: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/locked-life-wanda-castelvecchi/