Pamela Isom, CEO and founder of IsAdvice & Consulting, LLC (and treasured Focusing Forward consultant) is the captain we need at the helm, now more than ever, as we collectively navigate issues of AI and cybersecurity. The potential for good is massive...but so are the risks. Thankfully, this junction is exactly where Pamela thrives.
Over the course of her impressive career, spanning more than 25 years (starting with learning AI in the 90s!), Pamela rose through the ranks to become former Director of Artificial Intelligence & Technology at the US Department of Energy, where, among many other accomplishments, she contributed to the White House Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights. She also served as Executive Director of Application Engineering & Development at the US Patent & Trademark Office. Later, she became an industry Chief Innovation Officer and Cybersecurity Executive. In this role, the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community were her primary clients. Today she is CEO & Executive Consultant, a job where her experience, knowledge, and superb leadership skills all come into play. I asked for the nutshell version of what she does in her consulting work. This is what she said:
"I blend AI & cybersecurity to provide safe AI innovations and governance for clients. My focus is on empowering equity, opportunity, and sustainability through AI and emerging technologies."
Her client base consists primarily of corporate and private boardroom members, C-suite, and leaders of organizations in need of cybersecurity risk management and AI leadership. Her unwavering goal is to lead and advise clients on safe and ethical strategies for the design and use of AI and other emerging technologies, always with an eye toward equity, opportunity, and sustainability for all. What drives her work is the desire to make the world safer and better, a reason she's also a ForHumanity Certified Auditor in AI with a concentration in disability, inclusion, and accessibility. As Pamela told me,
"AI is not only for the select few."
It's this conviction that also motivates her to reach out to various communities to present them with the potential value of AI implementation and good use cases for it. Her passion is contagious. She's powered by her belief in AI as a tool capable of bringing about social justice, economic resilience, workforce development, and long-term solutions for pressing issues such as the climate crisis, clean energy solutions, and national security. For many reasons, Pamela's voice in these conversations is both invaluable and unique, not just because of what she knows, but also because of who she is.
As a black woman, she's keenly aware of the racial and gender biases that pervade the STEM community as a whole, and the realms of AI and cybersecurity in particular. According to Stanford University's 2021 AI Index Report, chapter 6, numbers of female AI PhD graduates in North America remain stubbornly low: a mere 18% of all PhD graduates on average. Furthermore, a 2019 study by the Computing Research Association (CRA) revealed that of all new AI PhD graduates, 45% were white, 22.4% were Asian, 3.2% were Hispanic, and 2.4% were black. Happily, the stats on women in cybersecurity are much less grim, and it's safe to say that demand for cybersecurity professionals will continue to grow rapidly in coming years. Still, there is work to be done.
I asked Pamela: What has her personal experience been like?
"My experience has been great. Yes, I have faced numerous challenges, and that is why my focus is on empowering equity, opportunity, and sustainability through AI and emerging technologies. I know what equity does - it creates hope and opportunities to compete fair and square when the playing field is leveled. When barriers are removed, disparities aren't amplified."
One last question for Pamela: What advice would you give to your younger self and/or to young BIPOC students who want to follow in your footsteps?
"Communities of color, and especially black women, have a substantial role to play in AI because of our learned experiences. We know how to look for and detect harmful bias, for example, and therefore, we can influence the training of the data. I would encourage all to learn both AI and cybersecurity, as they go hand in hand. We have to protect the data, and that comes through cyber- stewardship. To my younger self I would say that being innovative and different sets you apart and makes you a leader...so stay positive, stay focused on your vision and your dreams, and if anything negative comes your way, push it out of the way."
A big thank you to Pamela for taking the time to answer my questions and to share her wisdom with us. To learn more about Pamela and her work as a consultant, speaker, and writer, head on over to her LinkedIn page and give her a follow.
If Pamela's consulting services sound like they might be a good fit for your company (or if you'd like more info about them), please get in touch with us via our Contact page (subject line: Pam Isom Consulting) or by phone at (571) 309-5884.