British agency to train girls in cyberskills

LONDON • Britain's national intelligence agency has unveiled plans to train about 600 teenage girls in cyberskills this year in a bid to get more women into the male-dominated field.

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) said it would choose girls aged 12 and 13 to take part in four-day courses in coding, cryptography, logic and protecting networks following a nationwide competition this month.

A spokesman for the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said on Thursday the aim was to encourage more young people - particularly girls - to work in cyber security, with figures showing only 11 per cent of the global cyber workforce is female.

"We are looking to address this imbalance... Ensuring the inquisitive instincts of young people are maintained is hugely important," said NCSC deputy director Chris Ensor in a statement.

The initiative was welcomed by the technology industry and viewed as timely with British government figures showing that in 2017, about 43 per cent of businesses and 19 per cent of charities reported a cyber security breach over the course of a year.

"Often women and girls are coned off from the industry at a young age," said Ms Vinous Ali, head of policy at techUK that represents more than 900 technology start-ups and businesses.

Ms Ali said girls' early exposure to images of male James Bonds and teenage boys coding in their bedrooms reinforced stereotypes about who fitted in the tech sector.

She added that without role models, girls did not consider entering the field which has tried to address the lack of women by training staff in unconscious bias, highlighting female role models on social media, and deleting gender from curricula vitae.

Ms Ali said it was also important for the public sector to be a role model for diversity. Last year, British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that women could fight in front-line infantry, the Royal Marines and specialty units previously closed to them.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2019, with the headline 'British agency to train girls in cyberskills'. Print Edition | Subscribe