First and Deputy First Ministers support first EmPower Girls event to take place in Belfast

  • Photo: First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly with students from schools across NI

    The UK National Cyber Security Centre and Aflac NI joined Northern Ireland’s First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly today at a pioneering event designed to encourage young girls to consider a career in technology and cyber security.

    The CyberFirst EmPower Girls event, took place at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park, giving 250 girls, aged 11-12 from 12 schools across Northern Ireland, a chance to discover the potential career opportunities in tech and cyber security from professionals and experts on the front lines. It was the first such event to be held in Northern Ireland.

    CyberFirst is a programme of opportunities led by the UK National Cyber Security Centre to inspire young people to explore their passion for tech and introduce them to the fast-paced world of cyber security.

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    “The excitement and interest in the first EmPower Girls event has been hugely encouraging not only for CyberFirst but for the whole industry in Northern Ireland,” Eamonn Brankin, CyberFirst NI Regional Lead, said.

    “We hope the girls who have attended today have been inspired to look at tech and cyber security careers in a new light and with a greater understanding of the brilliant opportunities open to them locally. Following the success of the event, we look forward to announcing more CyberFirst initiatives in NI in the near future.”

    A total of 32 employers, who are CyberFirst industry supporters attended the event, with the aim of inspiring more girls to explore what a career in technology and cyber security might offer.

    Today’s EmPower Girls event is a fantastic showcase for the thriving tech and cyber security industry we have here in Northern Ireland that is bound to leave an indelible mark on young girls who may have been thinking that a career in technology was beyond their reach,” said Aflac NI Vice President and Managing Director Mark McCormack. 

    Pictured: First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly joined students from schools across Northern Ireland, along Mark McCormack, Vice President and Managing Director of sponsors Aflac NI, and Eamon Brankin, Cyber First NI Regional Lead at the first EmPower Girls event.

    “Representing a corporation whose overall employee base is majority women, Aflac Northern Ireland is proud to support CyberFirst with its first major event in the region. Providing opportunities for women and for continuous learning is a core part of who we are and how we operate, so we were delighted to be involved.”

    With women making up only 23 per cent of the tech industry in NI, EmPower Girls aims to address this imbalance by raising awareness of the variety of roles on offer in tech and cyber security as part of a high energy, immersive experience. Its goal is to encourage the best and the brightest, regardless of gender, to add to what makes Northern Ireland among the most desirable global hubs for technology and security professionals.

    First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The cyberworld is full of possibilities and events like CyberFirst EmPower Girls are a really helpful way of showing young people, and especially young women, how to navigate the cyberworld.

    "We are fortunate to have a flourishing cyber security and technology sector here and this is a great opportunity to showcase the many career opportunities available in these areas.”

    Deputy First Minister Emma Little Pengelly said: “The cyber world is part of our everyday lives now and with that comes great opportunities. We have a thriving cyber security and tech industry here in Northern Ireland and I hope today’s event will provide some valuable insight and inspire young girls to consider the many career pathways available to them in this exciting area.”

    At Tuesday's bustling and engaging event, the girls heard from cyber security expert Lisa Forte, whose career includes working with UK Counter Terrorism Intelligence and the UK Police Cyber Crime Unit.

    Students also took part in breakout sessions, live cyber security demos and exciting competitions with fantastic prizes arranged by employers from the sector across industry, academia and government. The event welcomed Year Eight pupils from schools in Belfast, Derry-Londonderry, Newry, Ballymena, Lisburn, Downpatrick, Ballyclare, Dungannon, Lurgan, Dromore, Newtownards and Ballycastle.

    Pictured: The CyberFirst EmPower Girls event

    A survey of the girls taken on the day found that 80 per cent were more likely to consider pursuing a career in technology and cyber security after the event than before they attended EmPower Girls.

    CyberFirst aims to connect students with Northern Ireland’s cyber security community and inspire those currently working in the sector to help encourage the next generation.

    Pupils from the following schools attended the first CyberFirst EmPower Girls event on (Tuesday 30 April):

    • Bloomfield Collegiate, Belfast
    • Thornhill College, Derry
    • Ballyclare High School, Ballyclare
    • Knockevin Special School, Downpatrick
    • Ballymena Academy, Ballymena
    • St Patrick's College, Dungannon
    • Ballycastle High School, Ballycastle
    • St. Ronan's College, Lurgan
    • Our Lady's Grammar School, Newry
    • Wallace High School, Lisburn
    • Dromore High, Dromore
    • Movilla High School, Newtownards

    There are a number of ways young people, schools and colleges and industry can get involved in the programme going forward. These can be found here:

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