Lauren Buitta is the founder of Girl Security, a non-profit organization designed to work towards closing the gender gap in national security by providing learning, training & mentoring support for girls. We had the pleasure of speaking to Lauren about her organization, her journey as a female in security, and how girls can get involved in the conversation.
Many young females in technology aspire to create their own nonprofits. What exactly inspired you to create an organization of your own?
“First, I love that this is a question being asked. Like many, I saw a critical gap with respect to initiatives designed to engage girls in national security as we have STEM. Also, I was a girl (many years ago!) who was interested in a field in which I didn’t see anyone who looked like me. I envisioned a national security workforce representing the many diverse experiences of girls and women in the U.S. and globally. Conflict, climate change, immigration, cybersecurity, human security, food security, and so forth – these are national security issues, and men have been both the primary decision makers as well as the architects of the systems through which we, as a nation, implement strategies to respond to these challenges (and opportunities). What would national security ideals and institutions look like if they were informed by girls and women’s vast security experiences?”
“I, too, had always wanted to start my own nonprofit, since my early 20s. I felt strongly about the fact that while STEM and national security are interdependent, national security as a discipline with a set of competencies and skill sets requires a specific approach. So, by the time that moment arrived when I was in my early 30s (yes, it took me a while), I had self-educated myself about growing a nonprofit or social enterprise. I felt confident about the organizational approach and my ability to scale an organization. I felt confident about the timing. Amazing women engaged with the mission. I never wanted to create something redundant, especially where there are so many awesome organizations in this world. Girl Security is a first of its kind organization.”
How does it feel to be leading a totally female-powered organization?
“Not a day passes that I don’t stop and consider how fortunate I am to work with the remarkable and girls and women — and some great men — of Girl Security. To create space for girls and women to be empowered in a traditionally male-dominated field and in a positive and supportive environment is my proudest accomplishment. I also have two little ones, and their pride in my work is everything. If it all stopped tomorrow, I would feel as though I made them proud. That’s very meaningful to me.”
What role does cybersecurity play in the world of national security?
“Information technology is one of the critical infrastructure systems we depend on for all or most aspects of our daily lives (depending upon one’s demography) – national security, the economy, communications, transportation, healthcare, civic engagement, and so forth. Cybersecurity, in its simplest expression, is the protection of those systems. But of course, we know it’s much more than that. Protecting critical infrastructure while advancing innovative, balanced cybersecurity laws, policies, and systems amid a rapidly changing digital threat environment are one of – if not the most – pressing national security challenges of today and the future. How we respond today will have significant implications for our national security, economy, environment, democracy, and most importantly, our citizenry tomorrow. Without a holistic cybersecurity strategy – and girl buy-in (we would add), our national security is highly vulnerable.”
How do you believe we need to improve our technology/cyber skills in order to become a safer nation?
“At Girl Security, we advance developing a “security lens.” Our programming advances a lens for girls informed by core competencies women in national security know will endure changes in technology. Girls’ are inherently security-minded, just by being girls. We want to catalyze that aptitude and provide girls with training that can enhance their existing aptitude so that when they arrive at that new playing field, they’re empowered and prepared. You know, we don’t teach coding. Within our tech and national security portfolio, we emphasize strategy, ethics, critical thinking, innovation, and collaboration.
For nearly all of our programming, a computer, tablet, or smartphone isn’t required. Why? If you have ever seen the movie “Karate Kid” (the original with Ralph Macchio as “Daniel LaRusso” and Pat Morita as “Mr. Miyagi”) you might recall the scene where Mr. Miyagi, a karate teacher, shows Daniel a series of defensive blocks by waxing a car. He could have been washing windows or swatting flies, who cares. The idea being that by incorporating defense techniques into every task, those techniques become muscle memory. Regardless of the situation, those techniques are available. In the same way, regardless of how technology and national security changes, we want girls to have a set of inherent security skills that can always apply across sectors and scenarios.”
What do you hope to see young women in cybersecurity accomplish in the near future?
“I hope that girls and young women can see the many ways in which they can engage in cybersecurity. Women in our mentor and partner networks, ages 25+, are doing some awesome stuff in ethical hacking, AI, predictive analysis, and so forth and have never coded a line. I hope through our programming and that of others that girls and women see the many ways – in the public and private sectors – they can engage. I’d like to see the field accomplish being more diverse, this includes women, women of color, men of color, and LGBTQ+. Industry and government leaders need to prioritize diversity and value the contributions of diverse peoples.”
How can girls interested in cyber/technology take part in Girl Security?
“We host workshops on tech and national security regularly but also offer the other types of training I mentioned before (Mr. Miyagi) to provide girls with complementary skills. Check out our events at girlsecurity.org/events. In addition, girls can sign up to be mentored by women in national security. Sign up to be mentored at girlsecurity.org/be-mentored. Girls can bring our program to their schools at girlsecurity.org/partner-with-us. AND, girls can participate in our social media campaign on disinformation, a primary tech and national security challenge at girlsecurity.org/disinfo and learn from leading women in cybersecurity and related fields. Many more opportunities to come!”