Lauren Bean Buitta, Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Girl Security, has made it her life’s mission to support women, girls and gender minorities in discovering and excelling in national security careers.

Buitta entered the security field shortly after September 11, 2001. A recent political science graduate, she was moved into action by the attacks and the subsequent national security response across the United States. “After watching what was happening to the country, I wanted to do something,” she says. So, Buitta returned to her hometown of Chicago and joined a national security think tank in an analyst role.

“It was a little bit of baptism by fire,” Buitta says of her analyst experience. “Twenty years ago, and especially in the aftermath of September 11th, it was quite a time to be talking and thinking about these types of issues, both as a citizen and an analyst.” After seven years as a security analyst, Buitta returned to school to study law, examining national security issues such as foreign surveillance and the indefinite detention of detainees.

Buitta then founded Stele Consulting, working in the urban security space and advising clients on “how to not just approach analyzing issues through a national security lens, but also gathering data and evidence to support whatever their respective policy outcomes were,” she says. She spent more than a decade working on initiatives to uncover the city’s long history of racially discriminatory housing policies. Her consulting work allowed Buitta to see the wider impacts of the security field and hone in on her priorities in the industry: supporting communities and people in need.

Through her extensive experience in national security and her work on local policy issues, Buitta saw the need to apply a more intersectional lens to the field, she says. “Seeing the ways that communities — especially communities of color — are impacted by bad local policy and the broader impacts that can have on a city or a nation supplemented my understanding of national security.”

Her consulting efforts helped Buitta connect security issues to the larger systems in place that affect and, at times, create them. “It provided a much more holistic understanding of what security is, what is required for different types of people and populations to feel secure, and how all of that can inform new ideas around security, both as it relates to policy and how we think about the field,” she says.

During her time working with local communities in Chicago and volunteering to support displaced women in conflict areas and refugee resettlements, Buitta contextualized her national security efforts within not just the larger scope of the security industry, but the communities it serves. “How do the decisions we make or the security solutions we advance impact the people that are living those experiences?” Buitta asks. “That idea goes to the model of Girl Security — why don’t we bring those narratives to our new thinking, as opposed to making decisions on people’s behalf that often tend to perpetuate adverse outcomes?”

In 2016, Buitta founded Girl Security to answer those questions. The nonprofit organization has supported thousands of participants both in person and online, providing career training and mentorship opportunities for youth who are interested in security. When she founded the organization, Buitta focused on trying to understand how girls saw national security and what they learned about the field in and outside of their educational environments. “I learned that the perception remains that it is a male-dominated space. And they know very little, if anything, about how national security decisions or policies are made,” she says.

Buitta took on the challenge of educating and fostering a diverse workforce through Girl Security’s initiatives. “From a mission perspective, we wanted to create an organization that provided a space for girls, women and gender minorities to talk about national security and really bring their experiences to the conversation around national security policymaking,” she says. Through its model, Girl Security also partners with educational institutions, security initiatives and other organizations to educate the next generation of the security workforce.

The industry has proven that diversity adds value to organizations, both from a thought-leadership and economic perspective, says Buitta. Now, she says, it’s time to move past striving just for representation. “We really have to commit to re-envisioning workplaces that value, advance and retain people based on their experience,” Buitta explains. “We have an increasing population of girls and women coming into this field, and we want to make sure that they have opportunities that incorporate their unparalleled insights and their contributions.”

The first wave of Girl Security participants are now entering the workforce, holding security roles in the public sector, including at the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), as well as the private sector, joining think tanks and developing the responsible tech industry, for example.

Reflecting on her work with Girl Security, Buitta feels a sense of optimism for the industry. “When I spend time with girls and women in our program, I feel excited for our future,” she says. They have the potential to change the face of the industry by bringing their lived experiences to the field, says Buitta. Today’s generation of youth are living through and bearing the brunt of climate change, the internet age and the era of school shootings in the United States. “They’re living these experiences right now,” says Buitta, “so if we are truly going to be innovative, then what we should be doing is investing in making them part of the outcome.”