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AU Group Pushing Inclusive Approach to Tech Policy

A new inclusive tech policy group brings together AU’s experts on technology, security, and science who shape decisions and policies at the national and global level.

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Jorhena Thomas, left to right, Dianna Burley, Derrick Cogburn, and Sasha O'Connell are among a group of AU leaders seeking to ensure decisions are made with an equitable and inclusive lens.

Diana Burley has spent much of her career noticing few people looked like her in the rooms where tech and cyber policy discussions happen.

AU’s vice provost for research is a global expert on cybersecurity, but that hasn’t stopped her from receiving stray looks at conferences and presentations.

“There have been many times when people have looked at me when I walked in the room, and they discount me because of the color of my skin or my gender or my age,” Burley said. “And I just say that's their problem because I know what I know.”

The lack of representation and diversity has plagued the world of tech policy. AU has world-class experts in cybersecurity and tech policy and many of them remember being underrepresented in rooms where important decisions were being made.

A new inclusive tech policy group brings together AU’s experts on technology, security, and science who shape decisions and policies at the national and global level to meet the challenge in those industries and ensure decisions are made with an equitable and inclusive lens.

The group and the Office of Research recently awarded the first American University Outstanding Technology Policy Changemaker Award to Doreen Bogdan-Martin, SIS/MA ’91, director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau (BTD) of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and current Biden nominee for ITU secretary-general of the ITU. Bogdan-Martin is leading initiatives that engage youth to participate alongside global leaders of digital change, tackles the slow progress in gender equality in the industry, and champions technology access for the unconnected.

“I was often, if not always the only woman in the room,” said Fiona Alexander, distinguished policy strategist in residence in SIS, distinguished fellow for the School of Communication and SIS’s Internet Governance Lab, and the former US Department of Commerce principal official for international internet, cyber, and communications within the executive branch. “The more senior I got, the more I realized it was more often that I was the only woman in a lot of rooms at the White House.”

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the lack of diversity in the tech sector—a source of an increasing number of jobs in the US economy—is central to public policy because it “impacts how we access information, distribute products and services, and addresses critical societal problems.” The EEOC attributes this underrepresentation of women and minorities in high tech to the supply of labor with the appropriate skills and bias that “impedes the full and equal participation of women and minorities in STEM fields.”

Compared to private industry, the EEOC study finds that whites (63.5 percent to 68 percent) hold the largest share of tech jobs, then Asian Americans (5.8 percent to 14 percent), and men (52 percent to 64 percent). African Americans (14.4 percent to 7.4 percent) hold the smallest share of tech jobs, then Hispanics (13.9 percent to 8 percent), and women (48 percent to 36 percent). Whites have the most senior roles at 83.3 percent compared to 10.6 percent of Asian Americans, 3.1 percent of Hispanics, and 2 percent of African Americans. Eighty percent of these executive roles are held by men, and 20 percent by women compared to 71 percent and 29 percent, respectively, in the private sector.

“We are focused on advancing global tech policy,” Burley said. “We firmly believe that to advance global tech policy that is inclusive and supportive of the breadth of the people in society, we need to have a diverse set of voices and people who are shaping and developing that tech policy. We believe the cadre of people that will come through the doors with us will be shaping global tech policy for the betterment of all people in society. And developing an inclusive mindset in the implementation of global tech policy ultimately serves all people in society.”

The group works to ensure that those decisions advance inclusive technology policy and grow a more equitable technology infrastructure by supporting underrepresented opinions. 

The breadth of expertise and experience is impressive. The group includes those who’ve testified as experts to Congress, and those of whom the government seeks advice. The group amasses people who worked at the highest levels of government and academia.

It ranges from Cronin’s work on terrorism to a group of experts, Laura DeNardis, Alexander, and Nanette S. Levinson on internet governance. Sasha O’Connell teaches US cyber policy at AU and led policy engagement with the National Security Council while with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Gary P. Corn, Alex Joel, and Corin Stone served at the Department of Defense, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the National Security Agency and worked on the intersection of technology, security, and law. 

“I think it's one of the things that makes American University unique,” said SIS professor Audrey Kurth Cronin, an expert on terrorism and the director of the Center for Security, Innovation, and New Technology. “I've never been in a place where there are as many really smart, talented, experienced individuals with great credentials, who all study some aspect of technology.”

Christine H. Farley serves as an expert on information law and intellectual property. Kathryn Walters-Conte directs STEM Partnerships and Outreach and works on encouraging students to follow technology careers. Heng Xu leads the Kogod Cyber Governance Center and works with ethics, privacy, and fairness in algorithms. Derrick Cogburn of SIS and Kogod leads the AU Institute on Disability and Public Policy and works to develop inclusive technology environments.

“One of the things that’s nice here is the diversity of the research when we talk about cybersecurity,” Xu said. “Researchers on campus are actually looking into the policy impact, the economic impact, and the implications of this technology and how these technologies really impact people's lives."