News | May 29, 2015

Intelligence Community Women's Summit: "Diversity is a Mission Imperative"

More than 500 Intelligence Community (IC) professionals gathered at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Wednesday, May 13, for the semi-annual IC Women's Summit with the goal of advancing success of women in the IC by addressing the obstacles they face.

The summit opened with a video message from Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James R. Clapper.

"I believe that in all of our major intelligence failures, diversity of thought could have saved us," Clapper said. "The challenge I'm issuing for you for this summit is to bring me concrete measures to bring equal opportunity to women in intelligence activities at all levels within the intelligence community."

Corin Stone, Executive Director of the National Security Agency, echoed DNI Clapper's challenge in her keynote, encouraging IC women with actionable advice. "We need to be committed to our own success," Stone said. She described how strong networking and committed mentors helped her along her path to becoming the number-three in charge at NSA.

Stone talked about when she became the first Deputy General Counsel at the Office of the DNI: "I was female, younger, with a different experience. When I walked in and saw their faces, I'm sure seventy percent of the table thought, 'What does she think she's going to tell us?'"

But Stone worked through being the minority, inspiring other women along the way, including one participant at the summit who came forward to thank Stone for making a tough choice: taking six months maternity leave from her leadership position. "You made me believe it was possible," she said.

The IC Women's Summit invites change agents throughout the IC – women and men – to apply what they learn back at their home agencies. Among the summit's sessions was an all-male panel entitled "Partners on the Path," where men in leadership roles discussed how they enact change, focusing on balancing micro-inequities, reverse mentoring, servant leadership, and gender agnosticism.

Christopher Armstrong, Chief of Enterprise Learning at the Academy of Defense Intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said he once cancelled a holiday party because no men volunteered to help plan it, remarking that women often end up with such volunteer tasks like party planning and making coffee for the office.

"I urge everyone in here to monitor your volunteer culture," Armstrong said. "Managers can set up a new standard. Let everyone see that you have awareness about catching bias when you see it. Make others aware. When bias happens, what does anyone do about it?"

Another panel discussed the impact of common perceptions and assumptions of women in the workforce. Panelists talked about the importance of diversity to achieving mission objectives.

"This business won't get any easier. Everyone needs to be at the table," one panelist said. "If you think you're going to solve the nation's problems with only a group of people who look and think like you, while everything else is changing around you, we'll only ever be good; we won't ever be great."

NSA is committed to diversity to meet the challenges of an increasingly dynamic threat environment. Click here to learn more about NSA's equality and diversity initiatives.