Government Communications Bureau needs more women cyber-spies

Hollywood is loaded with smart young women saving the world with impressive computer skills - but the reality is apparently quite different.

One of New Zealand's leading cyber-security organisations has awarded tertiary scholarships designed to lure more females into the spy business.

Government Communications Bureau (GSCB) director general Andrew Hampton told RadioLIVE's Mark Sainsbury that the $10,000 grants were an attempt to encourage more women into related science, technology, engineering and maths studies.  

This year's recipients are Georgia Gadsby (Auckland University), Amber Joseph (Victoria University), Kiri Lenagh Glue (Otago University) and Jessica Robertson (Canterbury University).

"Our organisation is about two things," said Mr Hampton. "We're about keeping New Zealand's most important information systems safe and we also have a role in gathering intelligence, particularly foreign intelligence, to help the NZ Government.  

"Females, unfortunately, are really under-represented in both areas - not just in our place, but also the universities and the workforce generally."

The GSCB recruits heavily from universities, but faces tough competition from more trendy online employers like Google and Facebook.

"At the primary school level, there's no difference between girls and boys in their achievement in science," Mr Hampton told Sainsbury.

"But when they get to secondary schools, if females have an interest in science, they often get pulled towards biology and health sciences.

"By the time they get to university, only about 26 percent of people in computer science courses are female and only 13% in engineering.

"I don't think there's anything innately inferior about females that they can't be great at those subjects - it's just that they've been turned off those subjects."

Mr Hampton insisted the GSCB needed diversity in recruiting to perform effectively.

"If you have an organisation where everyone is the same gender and the same ethnicity, and everyone looks at the world the same way, you're not going to get creativity and views challenged.

"You're going to get 'group think'."

Asked to pitch the job benefits, Mr Hampton highlighted serving your country, performing unique and interesting tasks with cutting-edge technology, and liaising with other like-minded cyber geniuses around the world.

"We invest pretty significantly into training and development to make sure they can do the best they can do," said Mr Hampton.

"We're committed to proper career paths, particularly women, if they want to have time out to have a family."