Meet Pat Ryan
As part of our International Women's Day celebrations, we caught up with Pat Ryan, founder of Cyber Girls First, an organisation that is helping to bridge the gender gap in STEM. With a particular focus on Cyber Security, Pat and her team of volunteers run inspiring events bringing together business leaders from organisations across the UK, helping girls realise that you don't need to be male or a geek to build a successful career in Tech.
Pat, tell us a bit about you
I was born and raised in Cardiff, South Wales, just before the Second World War. I went to grammar school in Cardiff, I worked in intelligence at various stages, and I now feel I’m doing something to give back.
This year's International Women's Day theme is #choosetochallenge. What do you choose to challenge in 2021?
I feel the challenge is that we have insufficient people going into cyber security and computer science. We're going to need millions of people to stem the tide of attacks. My challenge is to get more women involved, because that's half the population. If women can become involved in computer science, it would begin to even up the people that we need to work in this very sensitive area. That's my challenge.
What do you think needs to happen to achieve gender equality in your industry?
I think girls are going to have to stop thinking that they're not as good as boys. I want them to realise from a young age that there are huge opportunities out there. That they can success in male-dominated careers. They must also understand that so many careers are dominated by computer science.
I think parents must stop discriminating between boys and girls. Boys and girls should both play with lego and blocks, and have a computer and an ipad, and learn about technology. The reason why I’m so concerned is that in my experience, the boys seem to dominate the subject, although there's been a change in the last year. In 2019 the girls overtook the boys in passes in maths physics and computer science at GCSE in the top three grades, so i think we're making progress.
Parents need to stop discouraging girls from doing computer science, it's an amazing subject. More and more companies are offering flexible opportunities where people can work part time and from home if they have children. I don't think it's something that parents should discourage, they should be encouraging them.
What three pieces of advice would you give to any girl or woman who is looking to progress in their career?
The first thing you have to do is don't give up. If you don't pass an exam, do it again. Work harder, because hard work is the answer to everything. Don't just do the bare minimum, do the maximum.
The second thing you have to do is listen to your teachers, and don't sit in the class as a subservient. Take part in your classes and learn. Make an effort to be the best you can possibly be so that when it comes to applying for jobs, your CV reaches the top of the pile.
The third thing you need to do is remember that women don't necessarily have to take second place. "Oh well, i'm getting married and having children, so I have to give up my career." that was what my generation thought. We were expected to stay at home and look after the kids, cook the dinner and nothing else. In fact, I was told by one man at the university that they didn't believe in educating women, because they just get married and have children, so it's a waste of money.
My father told me that an educated woman is an educated family, just remember who it is at home helping with the homework and seeing things get done. A woman's input is enormous into the family education cycle.
What are you most proud of professionally?
What I'm most proud of is our family. My husband is amazingly supportive of everything I do. We have two children, a boy and a girl, who do what they love. That's really important. If you do what you love to do, it's not hard work, it's enjoyment.
We've got two children who were really good at science, like their father. My son ended up in Harley Street and my daughter's been working in Hollywood for the last 12 years, doing what she loves. So it's really important that the family takes precedent over everything. I'm terribly proud, and we've got two granddaughters, the second one has just passed to go to grammar school, so they'll be going together and they're terribly happy. They've got a marvelous family existence, which we're part of as grandparents all the time, which is really nice. That's what i'm really proud of, what my kids have achieved.
What about your greatest achievements on a professional level?
I did an awful lot of things when i was paid, but I gave up all that and started a charity which put computers into children's hospitals. I built a team of volunteers and we raised money. Carol Vorderman became our patron, and we put equipment into every children's hospital in the UK - 249 of them. It was everything from a local hospital with just one ward, through to Alder Hey which is the biggest children's hospital in Europe.
We equipped every one of them; seven thousand pcs, laptops, including literacy software. A million pounds worth was installed across the equipment, so children were learning to read while they were in hospital. When they returned to school after long stints in hospital, they didn't fall behind everybody. In fact, sometimes they were ahead of them
The cancer units, the bone marrow transplant units, all had PCs in them. We even had children doing GCSEs in hospital linked up to their mainstream schools via our computer system. I'm quite proud of that.
When all that was taken over by the local councils, I then decided to start Cyber Girls First.
Cyber Girls First
I could see that girls were being pushed to the side and not attaining their true potential in cyber and coding. Some of them were brilliant, and they were not being encouraged. I wanted to do something about this.
I decided to organise events for school girls, to inspire them about careers in Tech and help them realise what they could achieve. By taking the girls away from the boys, into a University or corporate headquarters for the whole day, they could be inspired about careers in Tech and cyber security. With the support of people within my network, I'm able to give girls the chance to meet high profile women from the IT industry, as well as lawyers and accountants, cyber security people and even rocket scientists.
COVID has impacted us being able to deliver any live events for the past year, however, we;ve found another way around it. I thought about virtual events, and I was encouraged in this by GCHQ, and we are now in the middle of a really big project in Blackpool. All the girls in the academies, we're going to connect them up in a virtual world and they're going to be able to talk to women all over the country, even in America, to see what their careers are and then when COVID is over, we're going to take them along to Lancaster University so they can see what's going on there.
I'm really proud of that because it's been a hard struggle with some support from Search, GCHQ, JP Morgan and Fieldfisher. It's been quite an uphill battle but it's getting a lot easier now. More and more people are coming in to offer their help. Oracle has been involved from the beginning and they are now helping us with public relations.
I'm really proud of that because by getting marvellous feedback from schools and girls, saying their attitude towards computer science has changed completely.
Who has been the biggest inspiration to you in your life ?
My father, no question about it. I was the eldest of seven children, and when I passed the grammar school, somebody actually said to him; "Well that's very nice, but you're not going to let her go, are you? You've got three boys coming up."
My father said, "Well, what if they don't pass? She's got the brains, she's going! And anyway, it's not a waste of an education."
That was when I first heard this saying, "an educated woman is an educated family" - that was from my father. He checked our homework every night, he'd go through it all. Latin, French, the whole lot. He kept saying, "You're going to work harder. I don't mind if you come home with your school report saying 'She tries her best'. "However if you're bottom of the class, don't come home with 'Could do better'". That was my father's mantra
He was my biggest influence from when I was very young. From as soon as he came out of the RAF at the end of the war. He'd been badly injured and yet he still helped us in every way he could, so he was my biggest influence from the beginning.