Lisa Foreman-Jiggetts, Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu
WashingtonExec’s STEM Executive series spotlights local government and private sector executives and their insights about the shortage in STEM workers/local pipeline gap.
The greater Washington area employs the largest percentage of STEM workers (18.8 percent in Maryland and 16.5 in Virginia, according to a U.S. Census report), suggesting the area depends heavily on STEM competence for its continued sustainability. And while industry and government execs are eager to hire STEM graduates, the number of U.S. high school seniors who are both proficient and interested in STEM lies at a meager 16 percent.
WashingtonExec: When did you become interested in STEM issues?
Lisa Foreman-Jiggetts: I became interested in STEM, specifically technology when I was around 12-years-old. My dad brought home a computer which was a very exciting moment as I’ve always loved gadgets, especially taking them apart and trying to put them back together. I learned to use this computer and install DOS programs and games and know this was the starting point for what is now my career as an Information Security Professional.
Not until recently, in the last decade or so did I observe kids, especially girls were turning away from STEM areas. I’ve had so much fun discovering and working in technology, I was at a loss for why more didn’t find it fascinating.
I felt a strong need to share what I knew, how everyone needs to be a digital native, and how important a diverse work force is.
'There seems to be less play involved with learning. You have to have the time available to be able to play, to practice, to build, to fail. When all your learning is devoted to testing, memorizing and listening to instruction, there is little left to discover all that there is in STEM.'
WashingtonExec:What do you see as the underlying root of this problem?
Lisa Foreman-Jiggetts: There’s just not one underlying root to this problem. Firstly, there is not enough exposure in these areas. We have a pipeline issue. That’s why exposure and awareness needs to start at an early age. I’m seeing more and more STEM camps and organizations providing STEM awareness and activities and that’s a great start. To get kids excited, there has to be a fun and cool aspect to it. There needs to be more involvement from schools, parents and organizations. There seems to be less play involved with learning. You have to have the time available to be able to play, to practice, to build, to fail. When all your learning is devoted to testing, memorizing and listening to instruction, there is little left to discover all that there is in STEM.
Another problem is mass media has painted a picture of what a stereotypical techie looks like and to an impressionable kid, especially a girl, that may not be attractive. Seeing more women in these STEM fields as role models allows girls to see that there are women doing this type of work.
WashingtonExec: How and where should policymakers be focusing their resources and efforts to augment the pipeline and address the underlying problem?
Lisa Foreman-Jiggetts: I think the biggest efforts should be spent starting at K-12 schools. Mandate to have computer science as part of the curriculum. With that being said, having experienced and qualified teachers is just as important. It would be a disservice if computer science was taught in a boring nature. Also providing funding to allow for more partnerships with organizations that teach STEM or computer science for after school or weekend classes would be beneficial. The bottom line is, we have to get kids interested young so they pursue these fields as a career.
Secondly, specifically to the cybersecurity field, there’s a growing demand for qualified professionals. The pipeline issue can’t be more evident here with thousands of jobs going unfilled. But what’s interesting is women make up 50 percent of the workforce, but only represent 25 percent of the information technology field with 11 percent in cybersecurity. We’re seeing that women are facing a multitude of challenges entering the field and are not getting hired to fill these jobs. While we want diversity, because of its endless benefits, it’s not happening.
Policymakers have an opportunity to increase the pipeline greatly by looking into these challenges. It won’t do us any good if we build our pipeline but don’t hire women.
WashingtonExec: What challenges do you see currently impeding the path to implementing that solution and making STEM reform a priority in the U.S.?
Lisa Foreman-Jiggetts: I think there’s a lack of understanding overall of the path those in STEM take and how early learning ties into filling the pipeline. There are a lot of moving parts and information is disparate, so you have folks working on one issue, separately, with no tie in to a related issue that someone else is working. There’s no master action plan. Plus the issue of the STEM pipeline takes years to study and with technology and associated requirements changing every year, it definitely poses a monstrous challenge.
WashingtonExec: Why do you care?
Lisa Foreman-Jiggetts: I care because being in the position I’m in now, I feel it’s something we have to do. I think back and wonder if there was a program like this that I could’ve attended when I was a kid, how much further and faster I would’ve gotten here. It is my investment in the future of our country and that of our global neighbors. We have the means to mentor and support those that will make tomorrow all that it can be. The Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu offers workshops to a variety of middle and high school girls through our Cyberjutsu Girls Academy. What is shared and produced in a six hour day is profound. Our program plants the seed and the girls run with it.
The women who are members of the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu leave with a multitude of skills along with feeling empowered and confident, but more importantly know that our organization is always taking action to level the playing field and increase diversity in field.
Founded in 2012, the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu (WSC) is a 501(c)3 International nonprofit commumity, focused on empowering women to succeed in the cybersecurity industry. WSC’s mission is to advance women in cybersecurity careers by providing programs and partnerships that promote networking, education, training, mentoring, resource-sharing and other professional opportunities.