Girls and National Security
Have you ever heard of national security? A few things may come to mind–like top secret government agents–but it’s much more expansive than that. In our conversation, expert Lauren Bean Buitta discusses what national security is and how her non-profit Girl Security educates and elevates girls in national security.
I want to welcome our special guest, Lauren Bean Buitta. Thank you so much for joining us!
LAUREN: Thank you for having me.
So before we get into things, I want you to share a little bit about who you are and what you do.
LAUREN: Thank you. My name is Lauren, as mentioned, and I’m the founder and CEO of a national non-profit organization called Girl Security, which is advancing the full participation of girls and women into national security, both careers as well as seeking to elevate the perspectives of girls and women in security both in the United States and globally. I’m also a mom of two little ones, which is probably one of my proudest accomplishments, in addition to founding Girl Security.
Oh, that’s fantastic. So for girls who may not know, what is national security and why is it so important?
LAUREN: It’s such an important question. I think when young people hear about national security, they often think about movies like Men in Black or spies. And national security is some of that, but it’s a much bigger, more powerful political realm. It also includes jobs like diplomacy in the state department. I know people are usually familiar with diplomats. It also includes scientists who work at labs. It includes the private sector. So some of your favorite brands also have national security sectors within their companies and industry. And it includes civil society. So it includes nonprofits like Girl Security. And the simplest way to define national security is protecting U.S. interests at home, whereas foreign policy can often be described as advancing U.S. interests abroad. The key to our work really is unlocking the issues that girls and women think are priority national security issues, what security issues matter to them most, and that’s really the mission of Girl Security.
Oh, thank you so much for explaining that for girls who maybe have never heard of national security, but what inspired you to create Your nonprofit, Girl Security?
LAUREN: Yeah, when I was in college, it was right before the terrorist attacks of September 11th. For a long time, I’d had an interest in understanding the human experience as it relates to war. I was really interested in the impact of war on communities and especially girls and women. After I graduated from college, as I said, in the aftermath of September 11th, I was really focused on going back to my hometown, which is Chicago, and trying to find work that would take me into those spaces where I could help be part of conversations around, “How do we want to develop a future for girls and women with respect to some of these big security challenges?” I was hired by what’s called National Security Think Tank, which is sort of a funny idea. It’s basically people sitting around and thinking about big issues like artificial intelligence or climate change or conflict. And I realized that there were very few women in the spaces that I found myself. Oftentimes I was the only woman in some meetings that I attended. So I had the idea for Girl Security pretty early on when I was in my early 20s, but it took me about 12,14 years to actually start the organization. Started it in 2016, mostly as a volunteer project. The concept of “fake news” was sort of becoming very prominent in communities across the United States. And I knew that could be a really good opportunity to start speaking with girls and gender minorities about things like cybersecurity, which are really big national security issues. I traveled across the country and began those conversations and learned that there were a lot of girls and women who were really interested in what was happening in the world. And many of them wanted to pursue pathways, career paths in this field. And so that really sort of set in motion our mentoring network, which is one of the flagships of our organization. We’ve grown to almost a thousand participating mentees this year.
Wow. That’s incredible. So you mentioned one of the arms of your nonprofit of Girl Security is the mentorship program. How else does Girl Security empower girls?
LAUREN: Absolutely. So in addition to mentorship, we have a workforce training program. So it’s a 12 week asynchronous virtual program where girls at the upper high school to early undergraduate age level get to learn from really cool women like Condoleezza Rice and Michelle Flournoy and some really great practitioners like Carmen Medina and Gina Bennett. They learn what we call an enduring skill set, so skills that regardless of how technology will shape the future will help girls and women advance into the pathways that they hope to pursue across the national security sector. We also have a professional advancement program which helps girls and young women find jobs across opportunities within government, outside of government. And then we do awareness raising campaigns. So we have a campaign that we’ll start up at the beginning of the new year that will focus on the importance of saving our democracy and protecting our election systems.
Wow. That is very robust. For Girl Security, why is it so important for girls, for gender minorities, for them to be part of this space?
LAUREN: Yeah, it’s interesting. What’s funny about the films, we were just talking about this with our organization, with our team, is they accurately represent sort of the prominence of men in these fields, but they often sort of pigeonhole women as unstable characters in the plot lines. And so it sort of does this double harm where it does situate women. It doesn’t show a diversity of women and sort of all of the capacities that they help keep our nation secure. Most girls or young women listening might follow shows like CSI or shows that have some kind of forensic FBI law enforcement element. And so we find that to be a really high point of entry for a lot of young people in our program. So representation matters. But I think specifically with respect to sort of national security issues, some of the most challenging and complex issues, not only our nation confronts, but the world, have gendered impacts. You know, we’ve been hearing a lot about artificial intelligence, generative AI, and we know the ways in which a lot of these technologies specifically impact teen girls. And in a way, they’re a reflection of the challenges around gendered violence that girls and young women may confront in their everyday lives in real time, in real life. And so we see this as a challenge, but also an opportunity to elevate girls and women’s voices on a lot of these cutting edge national security issues. Because the decisions and the conversations are happening now, they’re not happening in the past. So there’s a real opportunity for their voices to be activated in these conversations. And so that’s actually another component of the work that we do. It’s creating opportunities for girls and women to be at the tables, to be at those high level discussions and to have their ideas amplified because they truly are on the front lines of a lot of these digital challenges. And they will be sort of leading the change in the next 25, 50 years. We also know from a lot of studies that girls and women are actually evolved to thrive in a future shaped by technologies like artificial intelligence. So it’s both a necessity that they are represented, but also a value to humanity that their voices are included in these conversations. There’s a great field called trust and safety, which sort of marries cybersecurity with law and policy and gender safety and racial equity. And in the trust and safety practice, it actually is predominantly women for reasons you would imagine, right? Which is that girls and women. So I think a lot of us are going to want to feel the harms of the digital world first and want to be part of those solutions. So that’s a great field for listeners to check out. And there’s a lot of opportunity in it.
Oh, that’s brilliant. So what other fields or skills are applicable for, or involved in, a career in national security?
LAUREN: There’s so many. I really try to tell young people in our program that whatever field you enter–whether it’s nursing, whether it’s business, whether you become a parent who’s at home or a caregiver who is at home–national security, I think of it like an invisible veil. It shapes every aspect of how we live and national security decisions are made by the president and a national security council. And most young people really don’t have access to that understanding, even in sort of civics or history classes. So all of those really important decisions that are made from one administration to the next. And whatever issues that administration decides to prioritize–like climate, like artificial intelligence, like human trafficking, whatever the issue is–all of the decisions that any government makes around those issues has reverberations to everyday lives to all of us. And so I really think that that’s sort of a primary message, which is it will impact your career regardless of what career you decide to pursue, and it will shape the lives of your families and communities. But again, with respect to other careers, there’s a lot of growth, as I mentioned in cyber security, there’s a lot of growth in the sciences and the national labs working on issues like nuclear nonproliferation. You know, we’ve been reading a lot about that in the news, biosecurity and healthcare, obviously we’ve come out of a pandemic and we know what the challenges were coming out of that. So there’s a lot of opportunity in that space as well. And then again, even cutting across business and law, local state government, organizations working on even issues like affordable housing or urban planning, the nature of the security challenges we confront are very much at a personal local level. And so even just gaining a knowledge of how national security impacts every aspect of our lives, I hope can benefit any young person who’s listening and interested in this field or any related field.
My perspective is opening up even broader, realizing how not only very important national security is, but also very applicable it is to a lot of different careers and studies. So, thank you so much for explaining that. How would girls who live in the US get involved with Girl Security?
LAUREN: Absolutely. For anyone who would be interested in even just exploring the field, our mentoring application, as well as applications for our workforce training program, for access to a lot of the insights that girls and women are program developed can all be found on our website, which is girls security.org.
Okay, and then for girls who live outside the U.S., what advice can you offer them to help them get involved with whatever national security entity is where they live?
LAUREN: It’s interesting, national security in the United States has a very particular meaning. It has a similar meaning in some other countries with which we’ve worked. So we’ve worked with girls in Afghanistan and the Republic of Georgia in Morocco. I think what I would wish for those girls to understand is that there is a sea change happening that governments and women leaders see the need to prioritize. The security experiences of girls and women as it pertains to some of these really weighty issues like artificial intelligence, and that there is an organization in your community working on these issues. It’s just a matter of accessing it. And so I would really encourage any global listeners to reach out to us at our firstname.lastname@example.org email and we can direct listeners to organizations working within their country or community that might be able to support their interest as well.
Oh, that would be fantastic. So before we wrap up, besides your website, girlsecurity.org, where else can girls connect with you, either social media or online or other places?
LAUREN: Yeah. You can definitely find me on LinkedIn at Lauren Bean Buitta. Also on Instagram @LaurenBuitta or @girlsecurity_.
Lauren, it has been an absolute pleasure talking with you. I really appreciate you helping educate not just me, but the girls listening about national security, the importance of it, and how they are very needed in a lot of the fields that involve national security. So thank you so much for being on the show!
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