CPS Hosts Panel on Women in Homeland Security

Women leaders discussed the paths they took to move ahead in a growing field.

March 26, 2024


From left: Moderator Elaine Lammert, Trishi Malhorta, Lamar Gonzalez Medlock, Lindsay Kuck and Donna Bartee-Robertson. (William Atkins/GW Today)

As the burgeoning field of homeland security was evolving along with women’s expanding roles in the workforce, a panel of women leaders in the field told a George Washington University audience how their careers advanced in unanticipated ways.

In opening remarks at a panel called “Women Leaders in Homeland Security” sponsored by the GW’s College of Professional Studies (CPS), Dean Liesl Riddle said, “In Homeland Security, women stand as pillars of strength and resilience bringing with them a unique perspective, an unwavering dedication and an unparalleled skill set. Your presence is not just necessary, it is transformative.”

“From the frontlines of law enforcement to the strategic rounds of policy making, women serve in vital capacities safeguarding our nation with unwavering resolve,” Riddle said.

The discussion led by Elaine Lammert, CPS director of the Homeland Security program, was held Thursday afternoon in the City View Room in the Elliott School of International Affairs. The M.P.S in homeland security, B.P.S. in homeland security and M.P.S. in cybersecurity and information management were the three CPS security programs that hosted the event. 

The panelists included Donna Bartee-Robertson, a faculty member in cybersecurity strategy and information management and a senior attorney in the Cyberspace Operations and Information Law Division of the Air Force; Lindsay Kuck, a CPS faculty member and an emergency management specialist in the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts; Lamar Gonzalez Medlock, director for international affairs in the U.S. Fire Administration; and Trishi Malhorta, a U.S. Department of Defense manager and a graduate of GW’s Homeland Security Program.

Each woman stressed the value of mentors—women and men—and networking, whether it came in the form of informal chats by the watercooler, regular group meetings, membership in professional organizations or the guidance of supervisors who may not have liked them but not only helped them get ahead but also taught them how to handle sticky situations.

“All of the most impactful mentors were people that I met on my job,” said Kuck, who initially thought she could make it on her own if she just worked harder than everybody else. “Sometimes it was a friend, sometimes supervisors. The thing that they had in the common was that they genuinely wanted to see other people succeed and were willing to teach you the ropes and provide you with the opportunity to excel.”

Excelling, Bartee-Robertson advised GW students, requires focus, finding a network of friends who support you, getting the credentials you need to break in and taking advantage of an opportunity you may have heard about from someone or an organization.

“People have been doing that type of stuff to open doors for many, many years. No reason why we can’t take advantage of that, too,” she said. “Don’t feel guilty if somebody has told you about something the public didn’t hear about. It doesn’t matter. Take advantage of it.”

When you are young and as socially awkward as she was, Malhorta said, trying to figure out your career without clear expectations of what you’re seeking in a mentor isn’t easy. She said she found that organizations like Girls in Security and Girls Who Can Code help alleviate some of that social awkwardness, push women in the right direction and pair them up with the right mentors.

As for the special skills and qualities women bring to the table in homeland security, several of the women mentioned stepping back to carefully assess situations in detail, situations that often separate women from men.

Bartee-Robertson described a project she worked on where her team was eager to move ahead to please a chief officer, but she slowed them down because of concerns about legal issues.

“We got to a different kind of yes,” she said, “but we got it right. It was not exactly what they had envisioned, but it wasn’t like, ‘No, it’s not that you can’t use [the technology] at all. Let’s look at a different option which will hopefully be something we can build upon and get to a program that will be beneficial to all the sailors and airman at some point in the future.’”

In looking toward the future, Medlock advised that homeland security should prepare now for more women entering the field.

“Throughout the world, gender equity is one of the topics we hear from every country… even those countries that have been very machismo,” Medlock said. “The topic that keeps coming up when women are first at anything, emergency management, fire, emergency medical services, they have to not only do their job, but they have to break in the establishment, why does my gear not fit, why is this glove so big I burn myself when I go into a fire, why can I not reach that truck,” adding they should put in a “little fridge” so lactating mothers can store breast milk.

Medlock said that she and others “constantly ask in leadership dialogue to just make the changes knowing that women are coming. So, already, make those changes now.”