Where Agritech and Maryland Cybersecurity Intersect, DEI Must Take Priority

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Due to the presence of historically black colleges and universities (HCBUs), Maryland is often hailed as a national leader in advancing diversity, inclusion, and equity efforts.

Yet despite the achievements of these institutions, recent employment data reveal a less flattering reality. The 2020 Census estimated that Marylanders were approximately 31% black, 49% white, 11% Hispanic, 7% Asian, and 2% multiracial. The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts Maryland’s estimated unemployment rate at 5%. However, the white population only has an estimated rate of 4.4%, while 5.5% of the black population is unemployed. This 1.1% disparity may seem insignificant at first glance because the numbers seem small on their own, but it is a 20% difference in employment rates.

Scaled to census demographics, this means the white population accounts for 2.15% of the state’s unemployment rate, while the black population – only about a third of the state’s population, compared to almost half of white residents – accounts for 1.71%.

In other words: the data indicates that the racial and socioeconomic biases that disproportionately affect black people in Maryland remain in effect.

One opportunity to increase equity and improve socioeconomic opportunities in disadvantaged communities is to invest in K-12 STEM education, including computer science and cybersecurity curricula, and to subsidize higher education for minorities. The cyber talent shortage is a national talking point that cuts across all industries and sectors. As of this writing, there are approximately 714,548 open cybersecurity positions in the United States, including approximately 23,252 in Maryland.

Moreover, as a former Deputy CIO of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the current CEO of Institute of Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT), I know that many future cybersecurity positions will exist in roles that we are only beginning to anticipate, such as those at the intersection between cybersecurity and agriculture. If we don’t prepare a workforce now, we won’t have one for the future.

This is particularly important for Maryland, which accounts for about 9% of the total value of agricultural products sold.

Despite being classified as a critical infrastructure sector, food and agriculture’s experiences with cybersecurity applications remain largely understudied. As a result, the companies that America depends on to feed its citizens and livestock, manufacture its goods, and support every other sector can be woefully vulnerable. The FBI already anticipates ransomware attacks on agricultural cooperatives during critical growing seasons. The scale, sophistication, and propensity of these attacks will likely increase as international conflict and climate change impact annual yields, populations continue to grow, and agricultural technology becomes more automated and interconnected.

Joyce Hunter. (Courtesy picture)

Diversity, equity and inclusion efforts increase organizational resilience, financial dividends and innovation. To achieve our goal of improving the health of America’s people, environment, and agricultural economy, agritech must be more diligent and nurture a diverse workforce. We recognize that many people and perspectives have been excluded from agriculture and academia – and that public and private organizations can only be leaders in innovation and development by including and incorporating ideas, the innovations and voices of people of all genders, backgrounds, races, ethnicities. and religious beliefs.

In agritech, cybersecurity, or any other sector, companies that actively develop programs and policies for diverse populations to grow and lead will reach greater heights. Cybersecurity, perhaps more than other technology fields, requires a multidisciplinary approach to a problem. The domain is where problem-solving skills and a holistic view of a challenge are essential to solving a problem. Having a team made up of diverse individuals can only improve that team’s results.

In this country, as our understanding of sustainable agriculture grows, we have realized that holistic solutions cannot be based on science alone. To create thriving food systems for all, our research and outreach initiatives must be communicated in a way that is relevant and culturally sensitive to all researchers, farmers and consumers.

Sufficient resources, housing and biodiversity are essential to ensure a steady and progressively higher annual yield. Likewise, if we are to develop and strengthen a workforce for the future, we must ensure sufficient diversity, opportunities and resources. It is incumbent upon us in the agriculture and cybersecurity industry to be committed to increasing diversity, inclusiveness, and fair treatment of all, both within our community and in the communities we serve.

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