Women, Diversity and Human Rights in Cyber
Exclusive Interview with U.S National Security Expert Ms Algene Sajery
Editor’s Note: This interview was carried out on May 6, 2020, before the appalling killing of George Floyd and the disturbing violence we are now witnessing against peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders across the U.S.
Change in a society can only become possible if levers of power and influence are also held by women and other minorities to properly reflect the diversity of that society . To achieve this it is vital that more women and minorities enter and build careers in cyber security.
Nadia Khan interviews Ms Algene Sajery:
Elemendar’s Nadia Khan exclusively interviewed U.S National Security expert Ms Algene Sajery. Algene offers advice to women and girls interested in cybersecurity, thoughts on upskilling and unconscious bias, and comments on the close connection between human rights and cyber security. We’re grateful to Ms Sajery for taking the time to share her insights with us.
Ms Sajery is a seasoned foreign policy and national security professional with over 20 years of legislative and political affairs experience in the U.S. Congress and is now the Founder and Chief Strategist of Catalyst Global Strategies, LLC. You can learn more about Algene by following her on LinkedIn.
According to the (ISC)²’s 2019 Women in Cybersecurity report, women make up just 24% of the global cybersecurity workforce. Findings from the report make clear that issues of inclusivity, equity and diversity persist within the cyber security domain.
Algene noted, “We need more investment in early education in the STEM fields, especially programs specifically geared towards girls. The U.S. government, in partnership with the private sector and school districts, needs to increase support for programs that provide high-level technical training at the K-12 level, and of course at colleges, universities, and vocational schools. Internships, summer work programs, technology competitions for young women and the like are also important to building those skills.”
Advice to Women and Girls Interested in Cybersecurity
For women who aspire to enter the field, Algene has the following advice:
“Do not be intimidated because you are interested in a male dominated field. There can be a number of intimidating factors, such as the lexicon, the need for continuous training, the unfortunate bias against women. However women must be fearless and confident in their abilities, and unfortunately they must be prepared to work harder and smarter than their male counterparts.
And young women, please know that it is incredibly important to find strong, supportive mentors (both male and female) in your organisation, and in organizations you aspire to join, who can help guide your career and act as your sponsor. Also, find other women in your field who are at the same stage in their careers, and carve out time to check in with them regularly. Sometimes it helps to talk through career challenges and successes with peers. Most importantly, embrace learning: always keep learning, keep your skills fresh. Lastly, believe in your ability to make an impact.”
We hope that this encourages more women to consider a career in cyber security and how you can combine your interests to create a role that is right for you in the world of information security.
Some organisations and programs that take a multi stakeholder approach to advancing women leadership in cybersecurity are:
- Women in CyberSecurity (WiCyS)
- Women Cyber Security Society
- Cysec By Women
- Seidea BAME Women in Cyber Security
- She Secures
- Women of Color Advancing Peace and Conflict Transformation
- Girl Scouts of America – Cyber Security Badge Programme
Upskilling and Unconscious Bias
Algene also identified unconscious bias as a systemic barrier for women of colour, who currently represent only 12% of executive positions in the cybersecurity field. The lack of diversity across multiple levels within organisations simply cannot be addressed by the private sector or government alone. She recommends increased coordination between governments, academia, and the private sector to create the next generation of women cybersecurity leaders.
Human Rights and Cyber Security Are Intrinsically Connected
Algene began her career in cyber as a Chief of Staff for African American Congresswoman, Yvette Clarke (NY), who chaired the House Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and Emerging Threats.
While working for Rep. Clarke, Algene developed a deep understanding of the complex implications of increased malicious cyber-enabled activities in cyberwarfare for policymakers. We spoke with Algene to learn more about her interest in addressing the challenges cyber technologies pose to human rights protections and accountability in conflict zones.
Cybersecurity and human rights are complementary, mutually reinforcing and interdependent.
As a Senior Foreign Policy and National Security Advisor, Algene helped to draft several bills to increase human rights protections in conflict zones including the following:
- Global Magnitsky Human Rights and Accountability Act,
- Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act,
- Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act
- Enhancing Human Rights Protections in Arms Sales Act of 2019
This latter piece of legislation is designed to prevent foreign adversaries from using U.S. arms transfers, including drones and cyber-enabled weaponry – to commit human rights violations in foreign wars or against their own citizens. Her experience in drafting such legislation highlights how national security careers can evolve to become more targeted to cyber security.
Emerging technology, leadership and R&D
We’ve all heard it before: technological disruption has created a new set of dilemmas for policy makers. This is why within some national security departments, R&D roles are in high demand to design innovative tools in a competitive information security market so that the U.S can thrive in this realm.
Algene noted that in 2013 the Obama Administration pledged to increase collaboration between the public and private sector on cybersecurity through Executive Order 13636. However, in more recent times government funded-research budgets have been slashed and the private sector has instead taken up the mantle in funding basic research. Algene further noted that the Trump Administration’s tariff policy and negative posture towards Chinese and other foreign researchers has the potential to severely stifle innovation. Algene said that, “policymakers need to develop a coordinated, structured approach to increasing women in the cybersecurity field.”
Nadia Khan – Elemendar
Ms Sajery is Founder and Chief Strategist of Catalyst Global Strategies, LLC, (CGS) a strategic advisory and public affairs firm focused on building innovative partnerships to advance international security and economic progress in the developing world. Prior to founding CGS, Algene worked on Capitol Hill for nearly two decades, and served as lead congressional staff author and/or a lead negotiator of several landmark human rights, national security and foreign policy laws. Her tenure on the Hill included stints as the Democratic Policy Director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senior Foreign Policy and National Security Advisor to a United States Senator, Democratic Staff Director of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, and Chief of Staff for the Chair of the House Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology. Algene also co-founded the congressional African Staff Association in 2010. She is a member of Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security (WCAPS) and is in the 2020 cohort of the prestigious National Security Scholars and Practitioners Program (NSSPP), a thought leadership program of the Johns Hopkins University Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies.
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