How DHS Expert Juliette Kayyem Found a Home in Homeland Security

National security leader Juliette Kayyem shares some key lessons security professionals should take with them in their daily lives and more.

SECURE Perspectives is a monthly column by the Security Industry Association (SIA) profiling women in the security industry. This column is part of SIA’s Women in Security Forum, an initiative to support the participation of women in the security field through programs, professional development and networking events.

For this edition of SECURE Perspectives, SIA spoke with Juliette Kayyem, a national leader in America’s homeland security efforts. Kayyem serves as the Belfer Lecturer in International Security at Harvard Kennedy School, where she is faculty chair of the Homeland Security Program, teaching new leaders in emergency management and homeland security, and an academic member of SIA through her work with Harvard.

She previously served as President Obama’s assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s homeland security advisor and is now the CEO of lifestyle company Zemcar and the founder of Kayyem Solutions.

Kayyem will be delivering remarks at SIA’s Women in Security Forum Breakfast at ISC West on Friday, April 12, in Room 1001/1004 of the Sands Convention Center at 8:30 a.m. Learn more and RSVP here.

How did you get into the security industry?

I began my career as a civil rights attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice and was tasked in the late 1990s with assessing the civil rights and civil liberties implications of about a dozen counterterrorism cases. There were so few people in the field. That led to serving on the National Commission on Terrorism, which was a congressionally-mandated group, to assess the growing threat of terror in the homeland. We issued our report in 2000. After the attacks in 2001, sadly, my career in this space was somewhat made for me, and over the years — in government, academia, media and the private sector — I have really turned my focus from just terrorism to looking at all the hazards that may impact our security.

With more and more data that shows diversity makes a better workforce, what opportunities do you see for women in the security industry? What impediments do you see for achieving this? What could remedy some of these impediments?

Since I began in this field, things have already changed. Younger women are getting into the space; more seasoned women are reaching the top of the field. But there are still impediments: the general ones — the challenges of travel and raising a family, mentorship, harassment — that still exist in the workforce. I always tell young women to spend a few years “getting your hands dirty.” That means get out in the field as an operator — an intel agent, FBI agent, trial attorney, emergency manager, etc. — and get to know the field and make yourself known.

What do you see as important technology trends in the security industry?

Some of the major trends in technology are exciting. I describe safety as really being about promoting the secure flow of people, goods, ideas and networks. Security is really the easy part. The challenge is how you promote “flow” across our complicated systems so that we can be a vibrant nation. Technology helps, of course, in areas like mega-event planning and situational awareness.

Artificial intelligence is helping us assess large groups of data to narrow our security planning. And for things that are manmade — like climate change — that threaten our security as well, there is a much more serious effort around planning for challenges we will face.

More specifically, what trends are you seeing in the national and homeland security and emergency management space?

There is a greater sense of integrating the homeland security enterprise into prevention and response efforts. Instead of viewing the responsibility as solely that of the government, we see much greater integration of the private sector, citizens, cities and towns, NGOs and others in the effort. That gives everyone skin in the game and ensures that we are all invested in these efforts.

Your book discusses how security begins at home — what are some key lessons security professionals should take with them in their daily lives?

I didn’t plan on writing a memoir, but when I began to think of my life in homeland security, it was remarkable how much it mirrored my life as a parent. In the end, it’s about balancing three fundamental needs: how you minimize risks (terrorism or a bike accident!), how you maximize defenses (entry systems to airports or helmets!) and finally, and most importantly, how you maintain who we are (as a nation or as a family). Security threatens to undermine what makes us great as a nation. And too much fear for our kids or families undermines building our personal resiliency. So I tried to tie those together and explain to a non-expert audience in a relatable way how they can see the nexus between the two.

What do you hope the Women in Security Forum can achieve for the security industry?

We are here! And we are good at what we do. I’ve been to enough conferences and see the gender breakdown in the audience. I’m hoping to impart some of my lessons learned as an old(er) professional and to engage in a discussion of what more must be done.

What advice would you give women who are in the industry?

Commit to the field, stay in the field and be aggressive about what you do. Don’t be afraid or intimidated by the “guys with guns” if you are in policy work. Get engaged on the operational level. And support the women around you.

Who or what was the strongest influence in your career (e.g., a mentor, an event that inspired your career decision)? How do you define success?

I like to say I have had one career and many jobs. And at each moment, there have been those who have helped me. For me, of course, my career in counterterrorism was changed by 9/11. But the moment I remember most is less about my career progress and more about why I remain optimistic. I was in Joplin, Mo., a year after a devastating tornado tore through the town. It’s a conservative place, deeply embedded in faith. And a woman said to me, as the community rebuilt, “you know, the devil only wins if we don’t build better for the next time.” And that statement remains with me. Bad things happen, but the devil only wins if we don’t prepare better for the next time.

What would you say to new women coming into the industry?

It’s an amazing profession no matter where you park yourself. You can balance (if that’s the right word) personal and professional. And know that it’s the foundations of community and family that is the reason why we do what we do.

Click here to learn more about Juliette Kayyem.

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