January 17, 2019 / 7:32 PM / 9 months ago

UK intelligence agency launches new mission - to train girls in cyber skills

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain’s national intelligence agency unveiled plans on Thursday to train about 600 teenage girls in cyber-skills this year in a bid to get more women into the male-dominated field.

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) said it would chose 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 from GCHQ unit, the National Cyber Security Center, said the aim was to encourage more young people - particularly girls - to work in cyber security with figures showing only 11 percent of the global cyber workforce is female.

“We are looking to address this imbalance ... ensuring the inquisitive instincts of young people to find out how things work 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 UK government figures showing that in 2017 about 43 percent of businesses and 19 percent 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 Vinous Ali, head of policy at techUK that represents more than 900 technology start-ups and businesses.

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 CVs.

Ali said it was also important for the public sector to be a role model for diversity.

Last year, defense secretary Gavin Williamson announced that women could fight in frontline infantry, the Royal Marines and specialty units previously closed to them.

Reporting by Kate Ryan; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org

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