The Intelligence and National Security Alliance’s (INSA) EVP John Doyon introduced Matice Wright Springer, the Nation’s first African American female Naval Flight Officer, to start off yesterday’s ‘How Diversity & Inclusion Drive Innovation’ panel discussion – sponsored by Mantech. The Thursday panel was moderated by INSA President Susan Wilson Heckenberg.
Panelists shared personal stories, insights, and models of success. The panel agreed that conversations around diversity that may have started over the past month are critical to continue. Ethnicity, gender, disability, or neurodiversity, as well as many others, are diverse traits that help broaden perspective on tackling national security issues.
More Diversity Equals Better policies – BONNIE JENKINS
Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins is the founder and executive director of Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security (WCAPS) and serves as the U.S. Department of State’s Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. To list her other roles and duties would require the word count of this entire article.
Jenkins began by responding to Heckenberg’s opening question about why she wanted to be involved in the conversation today. Jenkins said the reason is the same as the reason she started WCAPS.
One of the reasons she started WCAPS was to give women of color a voice, especially in a space dominated by a much different population. “We need policy bodies that are inclusive and diverse,” she said. “By being this, we will have more effective policies for the US as well as internationally.” To operate most effectively, the Intelligence Community (IC) needs to reflect the American population, but many groups still lack representation. Jenkins stated that women of color “often don’t have a voice in policy creation, especially on issues of national security…By being more diverse and inclusive, we will have better policies, and more effective policies for our nation.”
Benefits of Neurodiversity – TERESA THOMAS
Teresa Thomas is the program lead for Neurodiversity Talent Enablement at MITRE Corp. She defines neurodiversity as not just the difference in background of thought, but more the difference in how someone’s brain is wired, which can add to an individual’s value in the workplace if recognized. Diagnoses like Autism, for example, crosses so many boundaries, and don’t care about economic diversity or ethnicity. “It’s important because it’s a talent pool whose people’s brains work on a different wavelength. It’s really important to tap into that and seek it out,” Thomas said. She also offered that organizations could benefit from hiring neuro-diverse individuals because of their unique way of thinking.
Experience Over Education Valued at CIA – SHERONDA DORSEY
Sheronda Dorsey is the chief of talent acquisition for the CIA, who recently released their first recruitment ad. When asked about the CIA’s diversity strategy for recruitment, Dorsey said that her team focuses on two things: 1) Using data to measure and understand what gaps exist and where to improve; 2) Communicating clearly and consistently about the organization’s culture and policies.
When it comes to promoting women into leadership roles, the CIA has set the bar, according to INSA’s president. Dorsey is very proud of what they’ve accomplished. She emphasized that the CIA values experiences and what applicants can bring to the table. As opposed to strictly schooling, experience shows if they are resilient or agile. The CIA uses this as a foundation along with diversity. “We still have work to do, but we are excited about the achievements we’ve made,” Dorsey said.
Along with sharing that her team relies on measurable data to discover the gaps in their recruitment process, she also shared that “strong, consistent, yet simple” communication about your organization’s culture and policies is critical in getting everyone on the same page.
Different Responses for Different organizations – MAGGIE FELDMAN-PILTCH
Maggie Feldman-Piltch is the Founder of #NatSecGirlSquad, a social impact consulting company and professional development community for people committed to competent diversity in national security and defense. If you follow this group, you’ll find passion within Feldman-Piltch’s words. If you’re soft on diversity, you might not be thinking about all of America when it comes to national security, according to Feldman-Piltch. Instead of answering why diversity is important, she challenges people to ask, “Why is a homogeneous team better?” If you can’t prove that, then why wouldn’t you try something different? “In the IC,” she said, “we all care about America, so we should all use that as a common ground on which to grow and make the community stronger.”
When addressing this moment, Feldman-Piltch states that every organization is different, so the answer to diversity and inclusion will be different. She also emphasized the need for security clearance reform. Some first-generation Americans, for example, are hesitant to apply for a clearance because of the extra barriers they may encounter when filling out an application. The system, then, is causing the IC to miss out on a lot of talented candidates.
Your Value-Add Comes from your unique traits
As they wrapped-up, the panelists encouraged participants to recognize their ‘superpowers’ and learn to promote them. What sets us apart is what makes us valuable.