What does competent diversity look like within the intelligence community? And what can the national security community do to ensure it’s attracting not just talent – but the right talent – to its workforce? Those are some of the questions #NatSecGirlSquad is looking to address as it empowers workers and advises government stakeholders on the challenges of hiring and retention.

ClearanceJobs spent some time chatting with Maggie Feldman-Piltch, the managing director of unicorn strategies and the founder of #NatSecGirlSquad, a professional development and advisory organization committed to increasing competent diversity in national security and defense careers.

“Everything we do is focused on building and supporting competent diversity in national security and defense,” said Feldman-Piltch. “So, as you can probably guess from our name, we certainly focus a great deal on programming and services related to women in the field, but membership, and our events, our conference – everything we do is really truly open to anybody who recognizes, like we do, that at the core of every national security challenge at the core of every national security problem is really a people problem.”

Sign up for the #NatSecGirlSquad conference, taking place in DC Dec. 11 and 12.

“For us, when we think about national security, at the core of every challenge – it’s really about diversity, and competent diversity,” said Feldman-Piltch. “Everything we do is really focused on building and supporting competent diversity. We have a professional development community of about 20,000 people that we engage with on a monthly basis, that does everything from what maybe some people would consider your traditional union, to professional development opportunities.

Feldman-Piltch noted #NatSecGirlSquad thinks about their work in three key areas:

  • Building expertise.
  • Building confidence in that expertise
  • Building institutional, sustainable, repeatable change within the government and national security community.

“I think while we might be new to a lot of the ClearanceJobs community, we may have been lurking in the background, and they just didn’t know it yet,” noted Feldman-Piltch.

When Feldman-Piltch founded #NatSecGirlSquad, it was in response to a need she had – to find the right resources to pursue and advance a career in national security.

“When I first started ,and even some days now, I don’t necessarily know what I’m doing or where I’m trying to go, or even what’s out there. So I started reaching out to other people for advice, for input, for guidance, and found that that nobody had all of the answers – which is fine – but everybody had some of the answers. And even more importantly, all of us had some of the same questions. So we sort of started building this informal network that grew and grew and grew.”

#NatSecGirlSquad is a member organization – everyone from students to executives can join the community, and men are also welcome to participate. In addition to their social media presence, annual conference and other events, #NatSecGirlSquad hosts an active listserv. For Feldman-Piltch, that’s just one way #NatSecGirlSquad is committed to meeting its audience where they’re at. She said that less than 20% of their community is active on social media – for those who don’t, or can’t, have a public web presence, the listserv provides a way to engage and participate.

Surveying the Community – What’s making or breaking your national security career?

To help put even more data behind its efforts to highlight the challenges and opportunities for women in national security careers, #NatSecGirlSquad is teaming up with Guidehouse to produce an IRB-approved survey about the challenges in pursuing and maintaining a national security career. The survey is open through November 18, and a preview of the results will be announced at the December conference, with a full report released in 2020.

Take the Survey: Building Competent Diversity in National Security and Defense

The survey is one more step #NatSecGirlSquad is taking to engage and support its community. The focus is to get the right people to the table, to have the right conversations – getting more voices engaged, and making sure those diverse voices have their unique needs addressed – whether that’s questions about dress code, the security clearance process, or how to get your foot in the door of the federal hiring process.

“There is no shame in asking what you can do, or how you can be your best self to be the best version of yourself at work and do the best job,” said Feldman-Piltch. “These jobs are serious, these careers matter –  the work we do matters and has real impact. And I really think it is #NatSecGirlSquad’s job and mission to enable and empower people to be their best selves, so that they can do their best work. And if that means having conversations about what you’re wearing and all of those things, then great. That’s what we’re doing.”

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at ClearanceJobs.com. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer