Amid escalating cybersecurity threats, philanthropist Craig Newmark formed a broad and growing coalition of organizations dedicated to educating and protecting everyday Americans in the digital space.

The founder of craigslist is looking toward the future with a renewed focus on the role content creators can play in inspiring women and girls to pursue careers in this rapidly expanding field.

Newmark, and several of his grantees, recently teamed up with the Geena Davis Institute for a virtual See Jane Salon, Closing the Cyber Gender Gap, to explore how the media can amplify messages and bust stereotypes that persist onscreen. Such a shift would expand career opportunities for girls and women in this space and rewrite the narrative on how the public views cybersecurity.

As it stands, women comprise only 24 percent of the cybersecurity workforce. But with 700,000 available jobs (and counting), opportunities abound to close what two-time Academy Award winner Geena Davis described in her opening remarks as “the disturbing gender gap in cybersecurity.”

“It’s critical women have a seat at the table when it comes to cybersecurity,” said panel moderator Madeline Di Nonno, the president and CEO of the Geena Davis Institute. “So now more than ever, we need to build a more diverse pipeline of workers so that women and girls everywhere can see themselves in cyber.”

Newmark has been a longtime partner and supporter of the Geena Davis Institute – and this issue showcases why the alliance is a natural fit. Newmark shares the Institute’s belief that real social change can be influenced by entertainment media content. For example, he often points to our study, The Scully Effect, as relevant to cybersecurity. In the report, 63 percent of women interviewed working in STEM said that the fictional character, Dana Scully (The X-Files), was their role model.

“The theme of the Geena Davis Institute is that ‘If you can see it, you can be it,’” Newmark said during the salon. “Well, if you’re having difficulty imagining yourself going into a new field like cybersecurity, it helps to see someone doing the work – on TV, in the movies, or in real life.”

Below, hear the vital calls to action from our change-making panelists. Each of our experts and thought leaders represents a key element in creating opportunities for women and girls to pursue careers in cybersecurity.

As Kiersten Todt, chief of staff for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), put it:

“Without women pursuing careers in cybersecurity, the industry is missing out on such a huge portion of the population’s talent pool. … And more importantly, we’re missing out on a diversity of thought that brings new perspectives and experiences to the table and makes us better problem solvers.

Our best opportunity to address the threats of today and the threats of tomorrow is through representation, diversity, resilience, and education.


Todt put a twist on the Scully Effect by citing a movie that inspired STEM careers. Call it the “Hackers” Effect in honor of the 1995 drama about a group of tech-savvy high-school students exploiting computer systems.

Todt knows several women in cybersecurity who owe their career aspirations to that movie, including former White House CIO Theresa Payton and high-ranking CISA executive Laura Delaney.

“Movies, like ‘Hackers,’ helped inspire the current generation of cyber champions,”  Todt said. “We need more of this type of representation in the shows our young people are watching.”

Todt said that onscreen portrayals and story arcs can play a more subtle role in creating “a culture in which cyber awareness and vigilance is so important.” For example, in the way that content creators of a previous generation started showing characters strapping into their seat belts before driving off, Todt wondered if, “Emily in Paris” could be shown taking an extra beat to use a password manager.

But the biggest payoff from onscreen representation? That comes with characters representing the “See It, Be It” ethos.

“We know the profound impact that the entertainment industry has on our country’s perceptions, and it has the ability to be an all-star recruiter for young women in the cyber industry,” Todt said.


Tennisha Martin is the founder and executive director of Black Girls Hack, a national cybersecurity nonprofit dedicated to providing education and resources to underserved communities and increasing diversity in cybersecurity.

And Martin knows first-hand that much work needs to be done. As an “ethical hacker,’’ one of her specialties is working as a penetration tester, which essentially means that companies pay her to find vulnerabilities in their systems before the sinister hackers do. So, a company developing a web and mobile application, for example, might ask Martin to make sure their users’ data stays private.

It’s a compelling career, but also one in which she rarely sees another female face on duty.

“I think it was maybe about a year and a half before I saw another woman on a pen test with me,” Martin said. “And that would be astounding if a man would be able to say the same thing.”

So she’s taken matters into her own hands, working with underserved communities to help others find their way in cybersecurity. Many times, she has helped get young people certified and trained for careers in cyber.

“Cybersecurity has historically been a very all-boys club,” she said. “And I think that what we’re seeing right now is that we’re lacking a lot of diversity in terms of gender, in terms of different neural diverse groups in cybersecurity. So as a result, we’re missing many of the perspectives and thoughts they bring to that industry. … We want to see more women operating the space, and we want them to see that there are people just like them who are doing the work.”


Nicole Tisdale is a Senior Advisor to the Aspen Tech Policy Hub and her impressive resume includes national security experience at The White House.

But years ago, no one saw her impact in tech happening, not even Tisdale.

“I’m an English and Political Science Major,” she said. “I didn’t take any computer science classes. On the other hand, I can count on my hand the number of STEM classes that I took when I was an undergrad.”

“As we talk about how we can get girls and women interested in cybersecurity, I want to remind everyone: cybersecurity is just like any other field,” Tisdale explained that there’s plenty of need for skills beyond coding.

There is no set way to get into cybersecurity. Tisdale even put it into terms that content creators might understand.

“It’s very similar to Hollywood,” she said. “In the Hollywood industry, you need attorneys. You need people who do marketing. You need a lot of girls and women, too.

“Because we’re also getting tests about how women who may already be in another field can transition to cybersecurity. … I know that’s terrifying to many folks. But you’re not going to know exactly where you fit into the cybersecurity space until you at least try something out.”

In cybersecurity, as in the media, it’s not just for the sake of tallying up demographic numbers. Instead, it’s about truly representing the diversity of the world as it is.

“It’s really dangerous to be in a room where everyone looks the same, has the same background, and has the same perspective,” Tisdale said. “When you don’t have everybody at the table, you can’t make policy that is reflective of everyone.”


This is where invaluable people like Justin Price come in. Price is the director of partnerships and special initiatives for the National Cyber Security Alliance. It’s a non-profit organization on a mission to create a more secure, interconnected world.

One of the ways Price is connecting with new faces is by introducing a better welcome mat. As part of a rebranding last year, the organization’s website also uses language that speaks to non-techies. No more dropping the term MFA without a proper explanation (it stands for multi-factor authentication).

“We wanted to make sure that we didn’t just use the insider jargon,” Price said. “MFA? There are people who are not going to understand that (…to some, MFA means Master of Fine Arts). And we wanted to use a language and tone familiar to everyday people.”

It’s part of an overall mission; Price is committed to recruiting from untapped hotbeds. For example, the Savannah State graduate noted that there are 50 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that have a cybersecurity or computer science program.

“But African Americans only make up a small percentage of the workforce, right?” he said. “And one of the concerns (stems from) a lack of understanding of cybersecurity jobs. So, we did a lot of research, and we thought maybe we could fit in the space of that human behavior element.”

So now Price is quick to alert students at HBCUS about internships, scholarships, and expanding employment opportunities in the cybersecurity field.

“We can help them navigate the job search process,” Price said. “Let’s mentor these kids with soft skills. What we want to do is help build a pipeline of Black professionals to fill the workforce gap.

“We have let these kids see this. They need to see it to believe it.”


Yes, Girl Scouts can still earn badges in traditional ways, such as through outdoor activities or by being good neighbors.

But as the world evolves, Girl Scouts can now earn a Daisy Cybersecurity Basics badge by exploring how to keep a computer safe via layers of protection.

It’s all part of a push from Girl Scouts of the USA to tackle the gender gap and provide real solutions to diversity disparities.

For years, the Girl Scouts would hold off until girls were ten before steering their troops toward tech education. But new data shows girls are creating their STEM identity as young as 5.

“When you start at that young age, it means that when the tech becomes harder, it doesn’t become scarier,” Meridith Maskara, the CEO of Girl Scouts of Greater New York, said during the salon. “It just becomes a norm.”

Indeed, early education helps eradicate one of the most common – and most daunting – hurdles for girls and tech. Moreover, it demystifies the cyber universe and makes it as welcoming as any other career possibility.

“We’re creating that space in the Girl Scout environment of what they are already doing every day, and giving girls that confidence that they are owning it and utilizing it – not just observing it,” Maskara said. “So, we see that progression that goes straight through and have girls as young as the fourth and fifth grade that last year participated in a hackathon and a cyber-attack here in New York City that they [simulated]. And then another team of girls defended it.”

So those 700,000 job openings we referenced above? It may be too late for this generation of Girl Scouts, but expect a wave of women applicants for such positions in the not-too-distant future.

We can hardly wait for that impending cultural shift.