Each year the Intelligence Community (IC) releases a report on its workforce demographics, highlighting current numbers and trends around both the hiring and retention of diverse professionals across the workforce. Despite positive trendlines in certain areas, diversifying the national security workforce remains a struggle. A webinar hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) addressed the issues of cultivating and retaining a diverse workforce, in a conversation moderated by Charles Carithers, principal at Cornerstone, and featuring speakers from the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA), Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA).

All speakers emphasized that without continually highlighting the need for diverse talent across all aspects of the workforce, throughout all ranks, and in every part of the hiring process, the same mistakes simply reoccur.

“Diverse talent is critical to addressing tough intelligence challenges,” said Shawn Coates, Chief of Staff, HR Management, ODNI. He emphasized that the times have changed, and competition for talent is fierce. The government can’t take workforce development or candidate attraction for granted. Candidate experience is something the government is realizing it needs to take seriously.

“What can we do to enhance the experience of all of our officers, but especially our officers of color,” Coates said.

Demographic trends continue to show that even in agencies where diverse candidates may be onboarded with closer parity, the advancement of those candidates wanes. Having people of color in higher ranks in national security is critical to moving the needle across the entire workforce, said Dr. Theresa R. Horne, Director, Office of Diversity & Equal Opportunity, DCSA. Leaders provide access to mentors along with sponsors who can help open the door for the next generation.

When people of color can be seen in senior positions within the organization, it makes a difference: “There is a pathway now, they can see it, they can strive for it,” said Thorne.

Along with leaders needed to both sponsor and inspire, the government also needs to consider its self imposed hiring barriers – specifically USAJobs, which speaks a language only those with a legacy of government are likely to navigate without a translator.

“If you’re only using USAJobs, you’re likely only accessing the ones who know the system,” said Thorne.

Fortunately, sometimes even simple steps can help attract more diverse candidates. Thorne described how she stepped in to help re-write job descriptions to help convey the kind of information diverse applicants may be most interested in. If you’re looking to attract a diverse candidate to a non-traditional or maybe less well known region or agency, being willing to bring a more candidate-focused job description to the table can help every applicant, but particularly those who may not already come from a government background.

NGA is an agency known for its ability to innovate and think outside of the box. When it comes to diversifying its workforce, Dr. Torreon Creekmore, Senior Cybersecurity Engineer, NGA, said the agency was looking to partnerships, as well as enhancing employee recognition and looking for opportunities to promote. Partnerships include mentorship and cross-agency training programs, along with the IC’s growing understanding that a national security career may look like five, ten, or 15 years of service versus 30, with stints with Congress and the private sector in-between.

And with the leadership gap remaining a key issue, panelists emphasized that leaders across the IC – of every race, gender, or disability status – should be looking across their workforce to see who has skills the government needs, but who needs the sponsor or guide to help them advance to that critical next level.

“Some of the better job opportunities I had were from people tapping me on the shoulder,” said Kathy Suber, Democratic Budget Director, HPSCI, who recently retired from federal service.


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