By 2020, there will be more than 1.5 million open and unfilled security-related positions, according to a marketing study from Frost and Sullivan.

“It’s significant,” said Director of Security Services and Marketing at IBM, Wangui McKelvey.

Students from Sandy Springs Charter Middle School learn about cyber security and career options in an Oct. 14 IBM career panel called CyberDay4Girls. (Photo Jaclyn Turner)

In this male-dominated field, women represented just 10 percent of the security workforce in 2015, she said.

The solution to this coming shortage? Start awareness of the field at a young age, especially with girls.

“The idea that only men can do it is really a myth,” said McKelvey. “In order to be ahead of the hackers, we have to employ a diverse work force. Women need to know this is a great opportunity (for them).”

Over the last few years, there has been a massive push for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) content in schools and through extra programs.

IBM and the Sandy Springs Education Force partnered Oct. 14 for an exclusive event called CyberDay4Girls that taught 20 eighth-grade girls from Sandy Springs Charter Middle School about cyber security and accompanying career options available to them. Similar events occurred simultaneously in Austin, Texas, and Cambridge, Mass.

Sandy Springs Education Force works with 11 Sandy Springs schools to help students be productive through supplemental programs and community collaborations, according to executive director, Irene Schweiger.

The students gathered in an IBM teaching room, three rows of girls dressed in shades of pink. The 13- and 14-year-olds had their iPhones sitting on the table adjacent to them. A topic of discussion was how they use Instagram and SnapChat rather than Facebook and Twitter.

Several female IBM staffers volunteered their day to teach the girls about cyber-security, STEM careers, and safe internet practices, all with very relevant scenarios involving social media.

“They don’t know that this is such a huge area for them to focus on,” said McKelvey. “We are here to tell them, we want to hire you. We’re letting them know this is a career path that is here waiting for you.”

Pam Cobb, the Worldwide Portfolio Marketing Manager, led a game reminiscent of the classic board game, “Sorry.” The girls took turns reading out the different situations or answering questions to earn points or to advance on the board.

Following lunch, the girls were treated to a career panel from female IBM employees, who spoke about everything from their first jobs to what IBM does.

“The recommendation that they clean up their social pages was one of the best pieces of advice I heard today,” said Linda Voyles, an analyst relations manager who spoke on the panel. “It’s not ‘Will I be hacked. It’s when will I be hacked?’ ”

The theme of the day was to raise awareness. Voyles highlighted that safe practices are to use longer passwords that can be changed every 90 days and to be careful about what is put on social media, such as locations or vacation plans.

–Jaclyn Turner