Girl Scouts may be best known for selling Tagalongs, Trefoils and Thin Mints, but soon they’ll be focused on an entirely different kind of cookie.
The Girl Scouts of America have partnered with Palo Alto Networks, a Silicon Valley security company, on the first ever cybersecurity badges for girls in kindergarten through 12th grade. Young women who demonstrate their information technology prowess can earn the first in a series of 18 badges starting in September 2018.
“We recognize that in our increasingly tech-driven world, future generations must possess the skills to navigate the complexities and inherent challenges of the cyber realm,” Girl Scouts CEO Sylvia Acevedo said in a press release. “It is our hope that our collaboration will serve to cultivate our troops’ budding interest in cybersecurity by providing access to invaluable knowledge that may otherwise not be available to girls.”
According to Cybersecurity Ventures, cybercrime will cost the world more than $6 trillion annually by 2021. There won’t be enough people to help users curb those threats, however—the worldwide deficit of qualified cybersecurity professionals is expected to reach 3.5 million people within the next four years.
A related problem is that women are vastly underrepresented in tech industries: according to a study by The Center for Cyber Safety and Education, females hold only 11 percent of cybersecurity jobs globally. And just five percent of startups are owned by women.
This is at least partly a problem of education—while 74 percent of young girls express interest in STEM fields and computer science, only 28 percent of computer science degrees are earned by women.
An information vacuum could also be to blame: the Computing Technology Industry Association reports that 69 percent of women who don’t pursue technology careers make that choice because they don’t know what options are available to them.
The Girl Scouts are trying to reverse this trend with the new badge program, which will target 1.8 million children as young as five years old. While the organization has offered badges in STEM fields for several years, this is their first program focusing directly on cybersecurity.
And the idea came directly from the scouts themselves—Acevedo said girls surveyed by the organization wanted to learn more about topics like hackathons and cyberbullying prevention.
Here’s hoping many of the girls who go through the scouting program become kickass female founders like those featured in our She’s the Boss series.