When Hillary Clinton accepted her nomination to be President of the United States and our Commander-in-Chief, the next-to-last glass ceiling for women was shattered. It’s not the last. Now it’s up to all the American voters to decide if she will make it to the top floor: the White House. And, as Clinton said last night, “When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.” Indeed.

So I thought this would be a good morning to take a look how the CIA’s working to bring more women into their ranks. A year ago, Runa A. Sandvik, Information Security reporter at the New York Times, FOIA’d the CIA for “all CIA recruitment posters targeting women” and other associated information. They delivered. Muckrock’s JPat Brown shares Sandvik’s find in “The CIA’s declassified dossier on what women want.”

JPat Brown’s interpretation of the posters is a fun start. He’s trying to answer the question, “So, who are these women, and what do they want?” as if women are some strange new species to the CIA. And, naturally, that interpretation produces a mocking tone, like, OMG, can you believe these are the conclusions the CIA has about women! Which is fun and funny. For instance, Brown writes, “Well, first thing’s first – women are on the internet. . . . But women also go to movies and read books, which is where their fanciful notions about the Agency come from. . . . Women like to get paid lots of money . . . Women have layers.” Clearly, the CIA’s a bunch of testosterone charged Neanderthals.

Brown’s missing the point. That’s not it, and it’s not a subtle point.


Indeed, some of the excerpts from the files the CIA sent Sandvik can be pretty humorous, but I think the posters—the product of whatever itemized lists of women’s characteristics some communications folks compiled (apparently, pretty much off the top of their head)—don’t represent all the amazing things the CIA has uncovered about women. The CIA’s not just trying to get just any woman to walk through their doors ready to work. The posters tell us what kind of woman the CIA wants to walk through their doors ready to work. And looking at the posters from this perspective is a more interesting exercise.

For instance, it’s not about race. The CIA apparently doesn’t care what race you are. Caucasian, Asian-American, African-American, many groups are represented. The CIA apparently appreciates those who understand that true diversity is central to true innovation: “Diversity. The perfect hedge against groupthink.” In fact, one poster profiling a woman argues, “How you see the world keeps our nation safe.” In other words, your interpretations and experiences are valuable to understanding the world, or at least parts of it. Another reads expansively, “For love of tribe, nation, and the world.” The CIA want’s women who appreciate challenges. The CIA wants women persistent enough to get to the heart of the matter. They want women with skills in business, in technology, in linguistics, engineering, and more.

Now, some might argue that the posters are just the agency’s public face–they don’t really care about diversity or recruiting women. It’s just a public relations campaign to make the CIA look like a kinder, gentler bunch of spies. I don’t think so. Why would they want to waste their time (and money) attracting and hiring people if they didn’t believe those people and perspectives are value added?

I’d say the CIA’s looking for something special. They know where to find it. And when they get it, the sky’s the limit.

Related News

Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.