With volunteers encouraged to wear glitter, bright colours and sequins, a soundtrack including Run the World (Girls) by Beyonce and 1,000 schoolgirl attendees, the CyNam EmPowerCyber event on Friday 17th November was quite the spectacle to behold. But Cheltenham’s cyber ecosystem didn’t get dressed up in fun, sparkly outfits without reason, they were part of a joint mission to inspire the next generation of female cyber talent.
As Hollie Wakefield, CyNam’s Ecosystem Engagement, Marketing and Events Manager, puts it: “Addressing the digital skills gap and gender disparity in the cyber workforce through initiatives like EmPowerCyber 2023 is so important to the sustainability of the cyber sector. This year marked the third year EmPowerCyber has been run in Gloucestershire, with more industry partners participating and more schools attending than ever before, all mobilised to help inspire more girls to consider a career in cyber.”
The event was packed with industry supporters including our very own NCSC For Startups alumnus Rowden, which specialises in digital fingerprinting of devices to help secure networks, as a headline sponsor. Additionally, other industry partners supporting the event and organising the activities included the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which Plexal is innovation partner of, QinetiQ, Raytheon UK, Golden Valley (more on that development here), Gloucestershire College, AtkinsRéalis, CACI, Sopra Steria, University of Gloucestershire, InfoSec People, Cyber First, BT Group and University of the West of England.
On the day, the attendees made their way around the room engaging with different cyber experts at various stands. They got stuck in with code-breaking, solving puzzles and engaging with virtual reality including VR escape rooms. These exciting and hands-on activities definitely made an impact on the year eight students who were encouraged to write their feedback on post-it notes and stick them around the venue.
We saw many of the delegates write about how much they enjoyed problem-solving with their friends and engaging in teamwork activities, which was hugely encouraging. It just goes to show that, even from an early age, the importance of collaboration within the cyber security industry is clear!
As well as engaging with the industry supporters, a variety of inspiring speeches were made. Anne Keast-Butler, Director of GCHQ, highlighted to the room that there are simply “too few women in the cyber world”.
Lara Vafiadis, Director of Sales at Conceal, told the story of her 3,000-mile solo row across the Atlantic Ocean in 2022. Throughout which she “overcame storms, capsizes and physical and mental exhaustion” all whilst raising funds for three amazing causes: Prostate Cancer UK, Plan International UK and Our Only World. Lara opened up about how she used to struggle with insecurities but wants the future generation of girls to know that they can do anything. She stated that her passion is “enabling women in finding their confidence, instilling self-belief and being your own wingwoman.”
Mads Howard, Manager of the CISO Office at Sage, was one of the hosts of the event. At the beginning of the day, she asked the girls to put their hands up if they had considered a career in cyber. Once the sessions were over, she then asked how many of them would now consider a career in cyber. It was brilliant to see the number of girls with their hands up going from a minority to a majority.
CyNam’s Hollie concluded, telling us: “[CyNam EmPowerCyber is] now being franchised in other regions such as Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool – marking its impact and success in reaching over 5,000 girls across the North and South of England.”
We can’t wait to see CyNam continue to help address the gender imbalance in the cyber community as they spread their message from Cheltenham and Gloucestershire to the rest of the UK.