By Mary Ellen Holden

In April, Craig Newmark Philanthropies (CNP) committed more than $50 million to support a broad coalition of organizations dedicated to educating and protecting everyday Americans amid new and escalating cybersecurity threats. Craig Newmark has been a longtime partner and supporter of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. When we heard about this initiative, we knew that content creators and the media community had a vital role to play in amplifying messages, busting tropes and stereotypes that persist onscreen, expanding career opportunities, and significantly shifting the narrative on how the public views cybersecurity. We were most interested in how this investment would make the world a better and safer place for women and girls each and every day.

“American and Western democracy is at risk,” said Craig Newmark. “As individuals, we’re being attacked on our soil in unprecedented ways. We need to work together to protect each other and democratic ideals in the digital world.” Craig drew the analogy to World War II, when every citizen and sector had a role to play in fighting the war. Similarly, his Cyber Civil Defense initiative will give people the tools they need in an easy-to-deploy fashion to make our reality and digital infrastructure safer, more secure, and capable of meeting the technical challenges ahead.

Our See Jane Spotlight, Entertainment Media is Changing the Equation for Women and Girls in Tech, reveals that Craig, a long-time proponent of advancing gender equality in technology, shares our belief that real social change can be influenced by entertainment media content. In it, he points to our study, The Scully Effect, as relevant to cybersecurity. In the report, 63% of women interviewed working in STEM said that the fictional character, Dana Scully (The X-Files), served as their role model.

I recently spoke with a few of CNP’s partners to gain their perspective on STEM and cybersecurity as it relates to intersectional women and girls and how entertainment media can amplify their work. These same digital tech superstars (plus Craig Newmark, Geena Davis, and Institute President & CEO Madeline Di Nonno) will participate in our Virtual See Jane Salon on this topic, scheduled for 3:00 PM EST on July 25, where you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and learn more.

Meet these change-makers below, each one representing a vital part of CNP’s Cyber Civil Defense coalition, then click the following to get their thoughts on these important topics:

Close Up

Tarika Barrett

CEO, Girls Who Code:

Girls Who Code is an organization working to close the gender gap in tech. Tarika is a Jamaican American (proud daughter of immigrants) and an educator. These perspectives shaped her career path and inspired her to keep fighting for a brighter future. As an educator and activist, she broke the mold and helped design a new High School in NYC that was the first to focus on software engineering; in doing so, she removed testing requirements and other institutional barriers to entry for students, especially students from low income, racially diverse communities. She views this moment as the intersection of bravery and opportunity, or her seminal experience grounded in gender and kids of color in technology.

Tarika has been with Girls Who Code for six years and became CEO during the pandemic; CNP has supported its mission to close the gender gap in tech for several years. Tarika shared, “Newmark Philanthropies has been an indispensable partner in terms of building a pipeline for women and girls to learn about tech and cybersecurity – in doing so; we are changing the image of what programmers look like and do. We need to ask girls the same question we already ask boys – have you considered a tech career. By simply asking the question, we open the door to possibilities.” Tarika added, “Girls and young women often get into computer science because they want to change their community or the world. And making that real-world connection is so critical. At Girls Who Code, our motto is You Can’t Be What You Can’t See.”

Marta Tellado (Photo Credit: Victoria Will)

President & CEO, Consumer Reports (CR):

Born in Cuba, Marta came to the US when she was two years old. The transition taught her not to take democratic freedoms and economic equity for granted. It also jump-started her commitment to fairness and a life of service. Today she leads Consumer Reports. This organization is 86 years strong and dedicated to making the marketplace fair and just. CR offers the tools people need for social mobility, safety, and security. CR’s superpowers include understanding consumer challenges and providing them with trusted information, innovative tools, and concrete actions to bolster their confidence and power in the marketplace. CR empowers consumers with simple, free digital tools, such as the security planner to remain vigilant and organizes consumer advocacy campaigns that call on companies and the government to raise the standards for cybersecurity and urge all Americans to act.

Three years ago, CR launched a Digital Lab with support from CNP. This is a place to study and understand the impact of technology on our daily lives as consumers. Marta observes, “We live so much of our life online and rely on technology – but much of tech is built without our security in mind. Our Digital Lab has become a home to better protect consumer rights. And as a beneficiary of CNP’s Cyber Civil Defense Fund, we are scaling up our product research, testing, and investigative journalism to uncover threats to consumers and solutions. She added, “I also love to brag that CR’s product testing and research teams are filled with women – they are working on the frontline. In the media, we need more girls to see themselves in rooms making decisions about our digital lives.”

Katie Brooks

Director, Cyber Partnerships, Aspen Digital:

Katie serves as Director of Cyber Partnerships at Aspen Digital, a program of the Aspen Institute. Prior to joining Aspen Digital, Katie supported federal and commercial clients on cybersecurity implementation and strategy. She previously worked at the Partnership for Public Service, where she designed and led programs to recruit entry-level talent.

Aspen Digital assists Craig Newmark Philanthropies in managing the Cyber Civil Defense initiative, the vision, and decisions for which are set by Craig Newmark himself. The initiative’s three focus areas are cybersecurity education for K-12 and adult audiences; building a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workforce; and anticipating and developing tools and services to protect individuals’ homes, businesses, and communities. Cyber Civil Defense is working with partners across sectors to address these important priorities to create a true whole-of-society approach. Aspen Digital delivers programming meant to empower policymakers, civic organizations, companies, and the public to be responsible stewards of technology and media in the service of an informed, just, and equitable world.

Rachael Cornejo (Photo Credit: Don Cornejo)

Alumna of the Citizen Clinic at UC Berkeley:

As a student, Rachael’s interests focused on human rights investigations, and she quickly realized that this line of work required her to be cyber-secure personally. She enrolled in the Citizen Clinic at UC Berkeley (a CNP partner) to learn cybersecurity skills and protect her digital footprint. The educational opportunity was unique in that the program was open to people without a cyber background. She authored her thesis on cybersecurity for human rights defenders and built a cybersecurity tool for them as well: Security Evaluation Framework for OSINT Tools – Citizen Clinic. She has also done psychosocial security (resiliency & mental health) work and co-authored this Amnesty International article: Building resilience on social media with “Rated R” – Citizen Evidence Lab – Amnesty International. Rachael believes that cybersecurity is critically important for nonprofits and human rights defenders who are pushing for social change. She commented that “We live in a digital age, and digital security is (or should be) a human right. Especially since we can be tracked and surveilled in real life and in the digital sphere. For example, journalists need to keep safe and secure while exposing injustices and traveling into conflict zones, so they are not tracked. The Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity is looking to build cybersecurity tools specifically for journalists, which requires a very different skillset from cyber practitioners than building tools for companies. I have been fortunate to participate in this important work.”

Questions & Answers from the Experts



  • I would love for the media to provide more diverse and fuller portrayals of those working in the cybersecurity field. It is not only important to change the representation of who we are seeing in these roles on screen but to add depth to who they are as people. At this point, the one-dimensional male-hacker-in-a-hoodie trope is not just overdone, it’s increasingly inaccurate. People in the cybersecurity field are creative problem solvers with multifaceted lives. They’re women and people of color with families, friends, hobbies, and stories themselves. It would be cool to show what is happening in their lives when they step away from the keyboard and what motivates them to come to work every day.
  • I would also challenge the media to focus on the empowering parts of cybersecurity, such as the strength and agency that comes from understanding online networks, systems, devices, and data use or the interesting problems to be solved in cybersecurity that impact people’s lives and society.
  • Finally, the best cybersecurity stories are not always the obvious ones. We are also seeing a common “doom-and-gloom” narrative about cybersecurity in the media… to the point where sometimes it seems like half of the media portrayals of cybersecurity stories are literally shot in the shadows. However, some of the most compelling stories in cybersecurity are often the “headlines that didn’t happen,” and these can often be hopeful narratives. I would be interested to hear a story about a breach that was mitigated and contained or about the diligent engineer who thought to back up the systems or noticed a small detail was amiss. These courageous, everyday actions are critical to preserving societal function, yet we don’t hear very much about them or see them in the media.


  • Media is a potent tool and has a huge role. As you say, “if she can see it, she can be it,” and I believe that. But, too often, I see a cyber expert played by a typical man, a nerd, and a capable tech geek. If we want women in real-life cybersecurity roles, we need more women in media roles depicted as positive, confident, and professional. Whether it’s characters on shows we watch, or real women highlighted by the media we follow, women belong and are already in this field having an impact. Amazing superhero women like Megan Smith, the remarkable former Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the United States and Advisor to President Obama, and Latanya Sweeney – former board member of CR and CTO at the Federal Trade Commission and current Director of Harvard’s Public Interest Technology Lab come to mind.
  • We need more girls to see themselves reflected in the media so they can envision their future careers in STEM, fill the rooms where decisions about our digital lives are made, and change the world!


  • There is a lack of visible role models – real or fiction in media – and we need to tell and elevate their stories. I use the example of the spike in archery after the Hunger Games and Brave came out on the big screen. There’s a connection there between the imagery onscreen and in real life. Kids learn about Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs in school, but they do not hear about Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Ada Lovelace, or Grace Hopper – all these incredible female pioneers in tech.
  • We have an archetype – a programmer is still a boy in a hoodie alone in the basement or a man running a company in Silicon Valley. Before a girl hits double digits, they have internalized these cultural touchstones of what a computer scientist looks like, and the stereotypes stay with them. I am hopeful because I see some narratives that focus on a rich history of women in STEM. Hidden Figures comes to mind.
  • On the flip side, negative behaviors highlighting the industry’s toxicity also appear onscreen. We’ve created a binary – you can either have a career in tech that makes you money or a career you love. We have to do better. We have committed as an organization that we can do good in the world and find joy – not despite their tech career – but because of it.
  • We are helping girls to create STEM careers on their terms – embracing creativity and passion. We must continue cultural change work in education, but the entertainment industry also plays a massive role in myth-busting.


  • I would like to see more women and women of color in technical roles, women who are empowered to use technology as opposed to those struggling. It’s essential to show portrayals that are not nerdy or designed to be laughed at. Instead, the tech girl should be cool and someone to be admired. That’s a shift I would like to see.
  • I would also like to flip the roles. Often you see the older brother who knows a lot about technology – why not show an older sister doing the same?



  • We recently announced a $5 million grant from Craig Newmark Philanthropies that will let us scale up our product research and testing, investigative journalism, and advocacy to identify solutions that inform, empower, and protect consumers. Part of this work will include advice and advocacy on the specific dangers that certain communities face more often, including women and girls.
  • There is an aspect of our digital lives today that unfairly targets women and girls in harmful ways, ranging from harassment to cyberstalking. That’s why Craig has supported gender-focused organizations in cybersecurity, including the Girl Scouts, which today have cybersecurity badges ranging from cyber-basics to cyber-investigators.
  • We also need to hold government and company leaders accountable. One way CR is doing that is by pushing for cybersecurity nutrition labels. Much like the FDA Nutrition Labels, cyber nutrition labels would help consumers compare products using relevant criteria, addressing questions like…Who is protecting my data? Who is selling my data? What precautions are built into my purchasing device? Are there automatic updates? What are hidden threats embedded in that software? These labels can influence consumer purchase decisions and incentivize real change in the marketplace.


  • Let’s continue to bring more diverse voices into the cybersecurity field. Cybersecurity has implications for every part of modern society, so more women – and all people of diverse backgrounds – should be involved in the field. We can also make progress in making cybersecurity more accessible, fun, and something to strive for as responsible members of society.
  • Technology reflects society, so I do think that women and girls face similar challenges in the cybersecurity field and in online communities as they would in the physical world. It’s important we all know what risks look like online to protect ourselves. Finally, cybersecurity is not just about the technology itself – it’s now about how we live our daily lives. It’s definitionally very personal.
  • As for a few quick tips, I would check to see what apps have access to which data, such as your photos, contacts, and locations. Have a passcode on your phone and use additional authentication mechanisms for your most sensitive accounts. (It does add time in logging in – but for something as sensitive as your bank account, that is well worth it.)



  • We have taught 500,000 girls computer science, and we now have 115,000 workforce and college-age women. When the pandemic started, we surveyed our alums and learned that 30% had lost their internships, and 40% of our seniors had full-time employment offers rescinded. We took charge so that our gains did not simply slip away. During my tenure as CEO, we have brought many new programs to market, including work prep (a 2-week internship experience), a hiring summit, and a leadership academy. We are constantly trying to level the playing field in tech as we need it to be more accessible and equitable.
  • We have also partnered with CISA, the Cybersecurity, and Infrastructure Security Agency, to raise awareness about the industry among our students and community. We joined their mission to increase the proportion of women working in the industry from 24% to 50% by 2030. We are piloting two new self-paced cybersecurity programs this summer. The first focuses on security risks and their social impact, and the other is on cryptography. Each addresses real-world events and explores jobs within cybersecurity, as we know that excites young people!



  • When our lives moved online, everyone – not just women and girls – started to appreciate and rely on the speed and convenience of connected systems. However, that speed and convenience have also led to a lack of awareness or time to assess the cybersecurity risks, and limited due diligence or assumed trust in online applications, systems, transactions, and conversations.
  • Most common mistakes relate to missing or not being aware of the basics of cybersecurity and online safety. Some examples of good cyber hygiene include using multi-factor or two-factor authentication software and regularly upgrading your software. (Don’t ignore those updates!)
  • It’s also important to be discerning with the info you share online. A good rule of thumb is to treat it as though it will appear or could appear in a tweet or a newspaper, and then decide if and how you really want to share the information, especially in forums with privacy controls.
  • It’s important to be aware of social engineering risks. For example, it’s easy to take a fun quiz online that tells you what your medieval name is or which character you are from your favorite TV show. However, in addition to asking you about your favorite color, it might also ask you questions that are frequently used security questions. While you think it’s harmless information on a fun app, it can have serious implications, especially when it’s not clear how that information is being used or who has access to it.


  • While individual actions are important and we’re committed to improving education for all Americans, I don’t like to couch this as mistakes women, or anyone makes. We can’t put all the burden on individuals. The system is set up to lure you in and give you a false sense of security.
  • We live in a data broker economy, and it’s wired with traps to mine your purchasing habits and identity because it profits from this activity. Interestingly, women are more aware of cyber threats and interested in solutions for their security.
  • There are tools to make it easier to safeguard your digital life. One that CR offers for free on our website ( is the Security Planner. It’s a one-stop-shop where you can go through your digital devices and services to improve and safeguard your personal cybersecurity. We’ve also reported on different ways you can protect yourself, including a story on “What Your Period Tracker App Knows About You” and another asking “How Private Is Your Online Dating Data?” We also have more advice on the way in my upcoming book, Buyer Aware, out on September 20. All proceeds from that book will go to support the important work Consumer Reports does to support consumers with tools and stories like these.



Cybersecurity disproportionately affects women and marginalized people because the existing safeguards were not designed with these groups in mind. It goes without saying the more privileged and resourced you are, the more able you are to protect your identity and your money and be able to be responsive. And the impact of cybersecurity threats on different groups is rooted in systemic oppression, from racism to sexism and classism. And, you know, we must think about the work we’re doing with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the kinds of coursework we’re putting out there to elevate awareness. It is just so critical.


I would close by inviting all women and girls to join the effort to shape our online world to empower us and guard our safety and security. We can shape the present and the future by being a part of the change we seek. I believe there is a seat at the table for us on cybersecurity, but we have to claim it. Join our team at CR to ensure that the digital marketplace prioritizes people over profits; we have opportunities for young women that are contributing to this in a unique way that impacts everyday life.

Don’t be swayed by this notion that cybersecurity is only about preventing harm and avoiding the bombs. Cybersecurity is also about wiring the world in a safe way that provides all the wonderful benefits of technology.


If you are interested in this field and don’t know where to start, there are so many wonderful organizations that can support your journey. It’s also never too late to start learning about cybersecurity. In my case, cybersecurity was not my first job, and I worked my way into it with a nontechnical background.

We need diverse voices in the field to stop group think and get to better cybersecurity solutions. We’re seeing some progress here, but there is still a way to go. For example, as of 2016, approximately 11% of security practitioners were women, now it’s closer to 20%. I credit the excellent work of many of the Cyber Civil Defense-affiliated organizations for helping push these numbers in the right direction.


Watching a presentation from a strong woman of color in cybersecurity (Gisela Perez de Acha) was instrumental in me believing that I, a female social science major, had a future in this field. We need similar onscreen representation in entertainment media of women who have skills in the arts, English, music, etc., who then switch careers or journeys and become more technical. This will go a long way towards empowering young girls to follow in Gisela’s and my footsteps.