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NSA’s Former Executive Director Wins EEOD Leadership Award

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Diversity, equality, and inclusion are key elements to NSA’s mission and were always a top priority for the Agency’s former Executive Director Harry Coker.

Only two women were represented among the leadership portraits hanging in NSA’s entranceway when Harry Coker assumed the role as the NSA’s Executive Director in 2017.

“I didn’t know what the right number should have been, but I knew it had to be more than two,” Mr. Coker said during an interview last week. “I also was confident that it was not a matter of competence and suspected that exposure, opportunity, and equitable treatment were factors inhibiting our Agency’s leadership pipeline.”

By the time he left the Agency two years later, the number of female portraits had increased to six.

As a result of his commitment to improving diversity, equality, and inclusion during his tenure at NSA, Mr. Coker was recently named the recipient of the Intelligence Community’s (IC) Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Individual Outstanding Leadership Award.

“I am honored to accept the award, which really is a team award, on behalf of our Agency,” Mr. Coker said. “In so many ways, NSA leads the IC and Department of Defense by focusing on our folks, trying to build the diverse team and inclusive environment that leads to mission success. Although we have work to do, we have a workforce full of leaders — at all levels and grades — that know the power of diversity, inclusion, and belonging.”

On 20 February, Mr. Coker will receive the award during a ceremony at the Intelligence Community Campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

“As a champion of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) efforts at the NSA, Mr. Coker stressed that diversity and inclusion is not complete without belonging,” NSA Executive Director Wendy Noble said. “To paraphrase Mr. Coker, diversity is being selected for the team, inclusion is being placed in the starting line-up, and belonging is celebrating the unique role and talents each individual brings to the team. Mr. Coker practiced these core tenets throughout his career, in thought, spirit and action, and is truly deserving of the EEOD National Intelligence Professional Award.” 

A portion of Mr. Coker’s nomination states that he was a “staunch supporter of the NSA’s Employee Resource Groups (ERG) and a trailblazer for new diversity initiatives and recruitment events targeting underrepresented populations. He sponsored quarterly briefings to the Board of Directors allowing for various ERGs to provide updates on important initiatives and ensured ERG representatives were integrated into teams to help develop the Agency’s strategy … He also was the first Senior leader to host an IC Pride meeting at NSA and attend the IC Pride Summit.”

Mr. Coker’s connection with equal rights started long before he joined the IC. He said he is proud and honored to have witnessed history in 1980, when his female classmates at the U.S. Naval Academy became the first women to graduate from the institution.

“It took a long time for our Nation to allow females to attend the service academies, but we finally got it right and, to be clear, our Nation is stronger because of the contributions that female service academy graduates have made to our national security,” he said.

Mr. Coker served as a Surface Warfare Officer for his first six years in the Navy and was an Engineering Duty Officer until he retired as a Commander in 2000.

After leaving the Navy, Mr. Coker joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where, among other things, he served on the Executives Diversity and Inclusion Council. Part of the EDIC’s role, he said, was to enhance mission delivery by advocating for and helping to develop a more inclusive environment. He took on a similar, less formal role when he came to work at NSA.

Mr. Coker said one of the most important things he learned during his career was the difference between tolerance and acceptance.

“Tolerance is a low bar where one can merely acknowledge and allow differences to exist,” he said. “Acceptance is welcoming and embracing our differences and leveraging them to make our Agency and Nation stronger.”

A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Mr. Coker said he might consult or practice law part time in retirement. But for now, he is enjoying spending more time with his granddaughter.

In addition to his most recent honor, Mr. Coker was recognized by the CIA in 2016 with the Don Cryer Award for Diversity and Inclusion Leadership.