The Intelligence and National Security Alliance continued its rockstar schedule of strong leaders within the Intelligence Community, holding a session with women in senior level positions at prominent federal contractors, sharing insights on national security priorities, industry partnerships, and the importance of steady, expert leadership amidst a pandemic, in both government and industry.

Moderator and Washington Post columnist, David Ignatius, led the discussion: Tiffanny Gates (CEO, Novetta), Amy Gilliland (President, GDIT), DeEtte Gray (President, Business and IT Solutions, CACI), Nazzic Keene (CEO, SAIC), and Toni Townes-Whitley (President, U.S. Regulated Industries, Microsoft).


The good news is that a common theme throughout this conference is that the national security field is fortunate enough to continue working and supporting programs despite COVID-19. In order to keep employees focused on the U.S. national security mission, this group of panelists noted that they are meeting team members where they are. Virtual environments have a different set of operations, so they are offering employees new and different tools and stressing the importance of flexibility.

Moderator, Ignatius, leads one part of the discussion saying that there is no such thing as an outdoor SCIF, so leaders in national security have been forced to get creative with the workforce. At SAIC, Keene says that their number one priority was keeping their workforce protected, by sending those who could work remotely home. The company already had 20% of their workforce telecommuting, but quickly jumped to 80% remote in March. While they had some technology in place to support this increase, they had to again, get creative, and implement more measures pretty quickly to avoid gap in mission.


An obvious downfall from transitioning to work from home is forcing yourself to dissociate and disconnect when your home becomes your office. President, U.S. Regulated Industries at Microsoft, Townes-Whitley, notes that a lot of individuals didn’t request time off. One thing she is reminding her employees (and even herself) about is “Putting on your mask first before helping others.” Take the time to breathe and refresh so burnout doesn’t become a large issue in retaining national security personnel.


This panel served as an interesting conversation because it seems that every year, women are gaining ground in leadership in intelligence.

One obstacle could be the challenge in obtaining access to female mentors in many organizations – luckily, there are many groups combatting this issue such as INSA, Women Impact Tech and Society of Women Engineers. While these organizations aim at increasing access, it is on the individual to put in the work from there.


The group discussed the importance of encouraging more diversity in STEM fields. They recognize the progress that has been made and appreciate the leaders who have broken barriers, but there is still work to be done! It is critical to reach younger generations early, especially in careers in national security.

The panelists organizations are trying to not just change as a company – but pushing these values out into the community and closing the accessibility gaps as much as possible.

Biggest takeaway

To combat increasingly complex national security threats, the IC needs to employ, develop, and retain a workforce that reflects diversity in its broadest context. Diversity in ideas, background, economics, experience, cultural awareness, and the ability to affect critical thinking and judgement that reflect the nation.

This is fundamental to keeping the U.S. safe.

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Katie Helbling is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 10+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸