From education to employment

Cracking the code: How to get girls into STEM

Claire Vandenbroecke

At a time when technology increasingly touches every aspect of our lives, the need for diverse voices in cyber security has never been more important. Claire Vandenbroecke, a seasoned Cyber Security Specialist with a rich background spanning film, media, and law enforcement, has turned her focus to nurturing the next generation of female talent in STEM. With over two decades of experience in roles that require quick thinking and innovative problem-solving, Claire now channels her expertise into advocating for greater female representation in tech. In this article, she discusses the importance of breaking down barriers and laying down pathways for young girls in STEM, reflecting on her own journey and the transformative initiatives she’s supporting with non-profit InnovateHer. Join Claire as she explores how established figures in STEM can inspire, mentor, and drive change for aspiring young women entering the field. 

A less than linear journey 

From the creative industries to cyber security, my career trajectory has been anything but conventional. After an experience in film and media that I found enriching, my (unexpected) transition to law enforcement opened my eyes to the mission critical role that cyber security, plays in the world of today. My career journey has certainly not been linear – but it’s a path that ultimately led me to specialise as a Cybercrime Officer, where I’ve been able to really deepen my understanding and skills in safeguarding digital landscapes. Over the years I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with many amazing initiatives and organisations that specialise in making the cyber world a safer and more inclusive place – particularly advocating for young girls – encouraging them to break down the doors of the digital career world.  

So, when I was introduced to the team at InnovateHer, I quickly realised that I’d found a platform that not only values, but actively promotes the integration of diverse female voices in tech. 

Breaking down barriers together 

Despite progress in many areas, STEM fields remain largely male-dominated, with significant underrepresentation of women, particularly in cyber security. This disparity begins in education and is perpetuated by a lack of female role models and mentors in these areas as girls move through their formative learning years. The stereotypes and biases that suggest STEM is ‘not for girls’ are barriers that discourage young women from pursuing these careers. I know this because it’s a glass ceiling I feared of coming up against myself. Instead, I chose to address these challenges head on – working hard to turn myself into a female leader in my field that would be visible, and actively advocate for and support structures that will guide young girls through their own STEM journeys, leading by example. 

My belief that education is the cornerstone of empowerment led me to offer my cyber skills to InnovateHer’s latest cyber security course, developed alongside industry giants like BAE Systems and fellow digital experts like Honey Williams. The programme has been designed to inspire, educate, and empower young women in tech, uniquely combining practical learning with real-world application, making it a vital tool for encouraging young girls to consider careers in STEM. 

Unlike traditional cyber courses, it presents students with real-life scenarios and problems encountered by actual professionals in the field. This hands-on approach means that learning becomes about so much more than just theoretical knowledge, but actually serves to empower students to tackle practical challenges. The course is also specifically designed to be inclusive, encouraging participation from all genders, but with a particular focus on inspiring young girls. We’ve carefully created interactive elements and scenario-based learning to make the content engaging and relatable – demystifying the field of cyber security and throwing the doors open to all walks of aspiring talent.  

By introducing young girls to cyber security, we provide them with the information and foundational knowledge that they need to succeed in a technical specialism, while also giving them the confidence to overcome stereotypes. The curriculum is enriched with contributions from current professionals and offers insights into the daily realities of a cyber security expert, making the field accessible and interesting. The involvement of female professionals as role models and instructors such as myself in the course is critical in showing students – especially girls – that these careers are not only totally achievable, but seriously fulfilling. 

Investing in the next generation of innovators 

As well as individual advocates and independent initiatives, bigger businesses also have a fundamental role to play in supporting the next generation of tech leaders. By offering internships, mentorship programs, and entry-level roles that are designed to grow with young people, companies can bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical expertise. These opportunities are essential for building confidence and skills, allowing young professionals to transition smoothly from academic environments to the workplace. 

As industries and technologies evolve, so must our approach to integrating young talent. Companies should view hiring young graduates not as a risk but as an investment in the future of technology – a safe bet, not a risky gamble. After all, these individuals bring fresh perspectives, eagerness to learn, and a readiness to tackle the technological challenges of tomorrow. By shifting cynical perceptions and recognising the potential of these young minds, we can foster an industry culture that values growth, innovation, and diversity. 

The path ahead 

The cyber security field offers endless opportunities for innovation and impact. By supporting initiatives like the InnovateHer course and advocating for greater diversity in STEM, we can ensure that the next generation of women is empowered to navigate and succeed in these crucial fields. So, let us continue to mentor, inspire, and lead by example, showing that the path to success in STEM is open to all, regardless of gender. Together, we can build a more inclusive, dynamic, and innovative future in cyber security and beyond. 

To any young woman eyeing a future in cyber security, I would say start your journey first by engaging deeply with your current educational opportunities. Explore online resources, join cyber security clubs at school, and participate in local and national competitions designed to hone your skills. Also, search for communities and educational platforms that offer workshops and seminars designed to introduce young people to cyber security, such as InnovateHer.  

Remember, the journey into cyber security doesn’t require you to fit a mould; it really only needs curiosity, passion, and resilience. 

By Claire Vandenbroecke, Ambassador at InnovateHer

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