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Girl Security Pathways Expo Joins Security Leaders and Aspiring Professionals

On September 23, 2022, Girl Security hosted its annual Pathways Expo, joining security leaders from across industry, government, and academia, with girls, women, and gender minorities from across the United States for a day-long, virtual exploration of careers in national security alongside skill-building and informational sessions on education pathways.

Participants engaged with experts on careers in the private sector, including cyber security, automotive, and retail industries; the government sector, including intelligence, policy, law and strategy; the social sectors, including advocacy and research; and academia.

Industry Pathways

Experts shared important career advice for young people considering security pathways. For example, Karen Dahmen has spent the last decade focused on security practices in cloud security at Microsoft. The first part of her career was focused on security compliance, but she found her passion in security consulting due to its importance in several social sectors, including Wifi, voter ballots and domestic violence cases. Dahmen offered two points for consideration: “The first is belonging.” At her first security conference, she remembered being caught off guard by the lack of diversity. Feeling upset, she eventually felt motivated and wanted her “security workforce to model the world,” and is now inspired by the progress in the last 10 years. “The second is framing the skills and experiences that each individual has,” citing the quote, “be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Dahmen shared two Microsoft cybersecurity certifications for people to utilize (Student Training; GitaSharma Collections) and resources detailing pathways and scholarships in security.

Garret Petraia, the Chief Security Officer for Levi Strauss, also transitioned from the public sector to the private sector. In his role, he is responsible for traditional security and preparing the company for emergencies such as the energy crisis and the Russia-Ukraine or China-Taiwan conflict. Petraia explained his career background before Levi Strauss starting as a police officer and then in diplomatic services at the State Department.  “For pathways, Levi looks for people who are culturally fit for their company,” Petraia stated. “Intellectual curiosity is also critical, and people need to be fluent in both cyber and privacy,” he continued. Technical expertise is also a necessity. Petraia emphasized that it is easier to teach a business person security or intelligence than the opposite. The traditional pathway from the public sector to the private sector is not diverse, but “opening our eyes to different pathways opens us up to more diversity in all forms,” he concluded. 

Social Sector Pathways

Naz Subah works at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a national security and defense think tank. Her career started in the private sector with work in human resources and consulting. Subah’s initial main purpose was to make money, but realized she did not discover “what is it that brings me joy?” She wanted to do work in national affairs and foreign policy work and only started recently at CSIS. “It is important to hustle,” Subah concluded.

Ariana De Soto is the deputy director at Coding it Forward — a nonprofit for early-career technologists interested in public interest technology. Soto was introduced to the intersection between government and technology in college, where she majored in government and minored in computer science. Her advice is to have some goals and a “north star,” but to not be so “laser-focused” that you miss other opportunities. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and reach out to people that you think are cool,” Soto advised. “People are very interested in talking about their work, especially when others are enthused about a specific subject.” 

Derek Johnson is the managing partner of Global Zero — an international initiative dedicated to nuclear abolition and supporting communities that have been harmed by these weapons. Johnson mentioned how it was “coincidental” getting into the nuclear field. He signed up for a job list in Washington, DC, and started as an events director at Global Zero. He did not know much about weapons or foreign policy but had the people skills necessary for the job. One of Global Zeroes fellowship programs specifically focuses on women and communities of color, emphasizing diversity. “Even if people do not have much experience in global security, they can enter the field if they put in the work,” Johnson explained. 

Government and Service Pathways

One expert discussed the importance of managing expectations with respect to government pathways. She explained how time frames can often be extremely long. The government job that she applied for took over 10 months to complete. “Be cognizant of the hiring time frames and make sure to plan accordingly,” she emphasized. She added, “focus more on what you are passionate about rather than what looks good on paper,” because “you tend to gravitate towards people with common passions.”

In addition, government and industry experts noted the importance of preparing for interviews; positioning one’s social media to project the profile they wish to show hiring managers; and the importance of finding peer and vertical mentoring relationships. As one expert noted, true mentorship does not mean you have to be in the same company. “While it is helpful to find mentors in the workspace, once you separate professional ways, continue to cultivate that relationship,” she said. 

Keynote Speaker: Vasu Jakkal, CVP of Microsoft Security, joined Girl Security Founder Lauren Bean Buitta, to discuss the important of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in cybersecurity.

Jakkal is filled with inspiration in the perceptual world, especially in culture and mindset, explaining how younger generations do not see the divisions, such as gender, race, and religion. “The way they view the world is so different from how we view the world,” she said.

Buitta asked Jakkal how she captured the most exciting career paths. Jakkal mentioned how security has a rich set of careers that is broader than just technical. “It is a very diverse field, and security takes a village,” she said. 

Jakkal mentioned the importance of having allies and sponsors who lift her every day. She stated, “I am a big believer in compassionate leadership,” since compassion and strength are integrated and lead in a way that encompasses selfless compassion. 

Jakkal takes her personal values and uses them to cultivate a healthy professional environment. She said leadership is “less about being on a pedestal, but rather about having a strong grasp of business acumen,” explaining that practicing empathy will make you better in everything because “you can understand customers, teams, stakeholders and more.” 

A Special Thanks to Our Sponsors

Girl Security thanks Microsoft Security, VIP Sponsor for this event, in addition to Mandiant, Palantir, Center for Strategic and International Studies, NSLI for Youth, The George Washington University College of Professional Studies, Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service, Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, and Georgetown Walsh School of Foreign Service / Security Studies Program.