In recognition of Women’s History Month ClearanceJobs chats with Cadienne Naquin Hopkins, a female national security trailblazer who has served in a variety of capacities in national security and helping encourage women to enter into the field. Currently with Altana AI, she’s also co-founder of the Command Purpose Foundation, executive director of the Amazing Women of the Intelligence Community and an organizing member of the Women in National Security Media Festival. We discuss the unique roles available in national security today, security clearance application anxieties, and how to kickstart your career.

  • 2:10 – How Cadienne got started in the national security career field
  • 5:50 – Why embracing differences is mission essential
  • 6:32 – Navigating the security clearance process
  • 8:45 – Expanding commercial sector opportunities in national security
  • 9:20 – The Women in National Security Media Festival
  • 12:35 – Gender parity in the national security workforce

From Neuroscience to NatSec

“My path into this community was kind of unexpected,” said Hopkins, who attended Columbia looking to studying neuroscience and the human brain. But about a week into her time on campus she met another student studying political science – and that got her thinking about how she could pursue a career with a ‘global mission impact.’

“One of the things I wish I had known, is there are a lot of prescribed paths who are kind of narrow,” said Hopkins.  “You talk to a lot of people who say you have to do this, and this, and this…what I would say to my former self is that when you talk to people who want to prescribe a path for you, it’s really grounded in their own bias and experience. A lot of these prescribed paths and these ‘shoulds’, and you should do this, and you should do this, are created by the majority, for the majority. And not for the minority. I think my opportunities really came when I was able to embrace my own difference and what made me unique and not what made me the same.”

Diversity in the IC

There is often a thought process that the national security field is a stodgy business full of stogy thinkers – but the reality is the IC is a community that embraces diverse thoughts – because it needs to.

“The stakes are really high in this work, and unless you’re bringing together coalitions of people who really see the world differently, you’re frankly not doing your job. In this community I’ve found it embraces diversity in a really unique way,” said Hopkins.

Embracing the Imperfection in the Clearance Process

“The security clearance process is really one of the most vulnerable processes any of us go through in this community,” said Hopkins. “The process has a way of making people feel like they have to be perfect. But the reality is that perfect people don’t exist.”

The reality that no one is perfect is actually grounded in clearance policy. The ‘whole person’ concept outlines how negative information should be considered within the totality of information provided. And that means having something in your background you’d rather forget should not preclude you from applying.

Women in National Security Media Festival

Last week was the Women in National Security Media Festival, a full week of events designed to shine light on the accomplishments of women in national security.

“It’s evidence of what’s in the realm of the possible when women come together,” said Hopkins. The events work to serve the history and build the future of national security, Hopkins emphasized. It’s inspiring a future for women in the national security workforce.

“When you see people who look like you there is incredible value in that,” said Hopkins. There’s been a lot of progress in promoting women into roles at the entry-levels and at very junior levels, along with more senior positions, but there is a real disconnect at the mid-career range. That creates a gap at the tactical level, where a lot of effort across national security is made. Hopkins notes that COVID has exacerbated the tension for women at the mid-career level, with many leaving due to the challenge of caring for children and maintaining their career.

That challenge only emphasizes the need for women to come together for events like the Women in National Security Media Festival, where the accomplishments of legends like Virginia Hall are celebrated, and early and mid-career professionals are challenged to continue pursuing the path of a national security career.

Listen to more stories of women in national security on the Iron Butterfly podcast.

 

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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com. She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.