Mary Kim comes from a family of medical professionals. While she admired what they did, growing up she knew one thing for sure: She did not want to be a doctor.
"Math has always been my strong point," she says. "I knew I wanted to go into engineering. My dad fostered that when I was a kid. I enjoyed solving problems, like putting together the air conditioner at home. I liked having my hands on things."
Kim took those interests and turned them into a career in cybersecurity. She's now a senior principal cybersecurity engineer at Raytheon and is based in the DC area. But in her two-plus decades in the field, she has continued to remain solidly in the minority as women remain far outnumbered by men in the profession. Some studies put the percentage of women in security at a mere 11%, although more recent research from (ISC)2 puts it now above 20%.
"We have a gap," Kim says. "And eventually we all get older, so the next generation needs to come in and change things. We need young women to know this is a viable career choice. It is not only something financially advantageous, but where there is flexibility for work-life balance."
So what better organization to engage and interest young girls in cybersecurity than the Girls Scouts? On October 19, approximately 3,000 Girl Scouts across the country, grades 6 to 12, will participate in the first-ever Girl Scouts National Cyber Challenge. Raytheon, with the help of mentors within the organization including Kim, has partnered with the 107-year-old youth organization for girls for the one-day event, which will cover such topics as cryptography, forensics, social engineering, and ethics.
Organizers say the girls will be prompted to respond to a futuristic simulation scenario: a moon colony has been hacked. They'll learn cybersecurity skills and team up to identify the hackers, trace the origin of the cyberattack, and secure the colony's safety.
Aashka, a high school junior and Girl Scout from Plano, Texas, helped plan the challenge in her region. She is hoping the chance to engage in the activities will convince more girls that security is not only fun but applicable to a broad range of real-world applications.
"It's one step in involving more girls and explaining to them that there is so much encompassed in cybersecurity – just like business," Aashka says. "And those opportunities are only going to get bigger and bigger. This will help them realize this is fun. This is cool."
Aashka says she was first exposed to cybersecurity through her own scouting experience at a camp, and that piqued her interest in learning more. Then, after a five-week camp on a local college campus, she was hooked.
"I thought cybersecurity was only coding and computers. And I didn't want to be stuck behind a computer. But I learned it's not just about coding – it can be used in fashion, music, sports. Everyone needs their data protected, and there are so many aspects of cybersecurity."
Raytheon's Kim says her interest in getting involved in the challenge is for that exact reason: to spread awareness among young women of types of careers in cybersecurity.
"For a lot of people [cybersecurity] is a buzzword, but that's it," Kim says. "People think it's computer stuff. They think you've got to like computers to do it. And I think while there's some exposure in high school, those certain classes can be daunting, and the conclusion they come to is, 'It's not for me.' In this event, there so many types of scenarios for the girls to engage in. There are a number of aspects in security beyond the technical part of the house. And that's the messaging in this challenge."
The Girl Scouts expect to be able to reach thousands of young women around the country with the upcoming challenge. More information on the event can be found on the Girl Scouts website.