Women in security, 'You can't be what you can't see'

‘A masterclass in national security’ is how many participants have described the Women in National Security Conference hosted by the Australian National University’s (ANU) National Security College (NSC) in Canberra last week.

Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Frances Adamson, said the work of women is essential for successful outcomes in a broad range of fields – crisis management, international legal practice, intelligence analysis, peacekeeping and diplomacy.

‘Whether informal influence at the grassroots level, or whether in formal positions of institutional power, the contribution of women is critical to our international security goals,” she said in her keynote speech.

Visible role models also matter, she said, and encouraged her counterparts to be part of ‘normalising’ the role of women in national security to encourage more talent into the sector. ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington urged conference participants to ‘turn invisibility into inspiration’. ‘We need you more than ever, but we need more of you,’ she said.

The ‘squishy widget’ in a cyber-physical world

The event featured a diverse line-up of panellists and keynote speakers, including Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell, Wujal Wujal people from eastern Cape York, federal government department leaders, academics, analysts, politicians and young women from the Australian Signals Directorate’s (ASD) work experience program for Year 10-12 students.

Reflecting the conference theme of ‘Power, Security and Change’, participants had the opportunity to share insights about:

  • Data analysis, privacy and national security

  • Indo-Pacific security dynamics

  • Nuclear deterrence, technology and security

  • Understanding the role of gender in countering terrorist threats

  • Security through community in eastern Cape York

  • Security challenges and the future of power

  • Making security decisions in a democracy

  • Defence and security professions of the future

Dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science at ANU, Professor Elanor Huntington, said, when threatened, one of the natural responses of the nation-state is to hunker down, and that is exactly the wrong response, given that Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) now provide the foundation for critical infrastructure, services, appliances, manufacturing, disaster response and cyber security.

‘Humans are now part of a Cyber-Physical System in a way we’ve never been before,’ she said. ‘We’re the squishy widget on the end.’

For Eileen Deemal-Hall, chief executive of Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shire Council, ‘everything we connect to is about Country’.

Co-leading a session with Lieutenant Colonel Tim Rutherford, Commanding Officer of the 51^st^ Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment, about collaboration in eastern Cape York, Ms Deemal-Hall said technology – such as the tiny shire’s innovative WiFi dome, a private wireless network – is playing a crucial role in social cohesion and is supporting the community’s social and economic development.

In another panel discussion, analyst from Indonesia’s Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, Nava Nuraniyah, explained how the internet has become an important enabler, not only for terrorist propaganda but also for extremist socialisation through electronic dating and also as a permissible public space where women can bypass the traditional male gatekeepers.

In this more complex environment, state governments are re-assessing security approaches so that they can tap into all capabilities.

Deputy High Commissioner of the British High Commission in Canberra, Ingrid Southworth, outlined the United Kingdom’s new national security doctrine, the Fusion Doctrine, which aims to combine and harness the UK’s economic, security, technological, and military capabilities. She said this means using not just security and intelligence tools but also economic levers, regulation, international institutions and diplomacy.

ASD as an enabler of talent

The Australian Cyber Security Centre’s (ACSC) Amy Roberts, who manages programs such as Australia’s flagship Cyber Security Challenge Australia (CySCA) and Women in Cyber Mentoring Events, led a panel of talented young women and explained how the ASD works as an enabler of the workforce. This is to ensure that change happens and the talent pool grows, which matters given that women make up just 11 per cent of the cyber security workforce.

Gungahlin College’s talented techie Felicity Robson, who has just completed a work experience placement with ASD, said the experience had set her on the path of cyber security, and urged national security professionals to continue to show young women what roles were available to them. Without the ASD program, she wouldn’t have known, Ms Robson said.

New Zealand’s Ginny Baddeley, Director of the National Security Workforce, said the sector should be telling a stronger, unclassified story about national security and continue its work in nudging, disrupting and championing new ways of thinking and operating.

‘We’re in the people business,’ she said.

A range of stories and podcasts from the conference can be found on the NSC website.

More information about opportunities in ICT and cyber security for primary, secondary and tertiary students can be found on the ASD website.