2017 IC Women's Summit

2017 IC Women's Summit


Attendees of the Fifth Annual Intelligence Community Women’s Summit March 28 at the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland, probably left with one standout word stuck in their minds: ally.


Whether seeking out mentors to help with career progression, or being cognizant of the challenges both women and men face in the workplace, speakers from the beginning to the end of the day-long event reinforced the importance of being and having allies.


NSA Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Director Sandy Stanar-Johnson kicked off her welcome remarks by highlighting the need for a diverse workforce in the IC. “We’re all people working in partnership for our nation,” she said.


George Barnes, Director of Workforce Support Activities at NSA, spoke of the strong women in his life who inspire him, including his mother, sisters and wife. When he was a child, his mother helped start a grassroots campaign to prevent an oil company from building a plant in their county, and the company eventually backed down. He went on to marry a Marine officer; his wife is now a Colonel.


Barnes said he was proud to be the first director of a newly-established directorate at NSA dedicated solely to human capital. “We need to look at how to plant those seeds” of inspiration and partnership within our communities and relationships, he said.


Summit keynote speaker Baroness Joanna Shields is neither British by birth nor married to royalty. Shields was born in western Pennsylvania and worked her way up through Silicon Valley, starting in manufacturing and moving on to climb the ladder at companies like Google, AOL and Facebook. She was hand-selected by then-Prime Minister David Cameron to take on a newly-created position in the House of Lords: Minister for Internet Safety and Security.


The Baroness’s speech addressed women at work, and expanded into her work on the protection of children, women and minorities online.


“As a leader in the industry, I felt sick we weren’t doing a better job... We needed an internet that would empower, not harm.”


Baroness Joanna Shields at 2017 IC Womens Summit


Even as a self-proclaimed ‘web utopian,’ she told the audience, she began to see the unintended consequences of technology on the physical and mental well-being of its users.


“It is a cruel irony indeed that one of humanity’s most liberating innovations has also become a vessel for violence and hatred,” she said, noting the abuse, cyber-bullying, hate speech and extremism, and sexual exploitation the internet facilitates. “For women in particular, the internet is becoming a more hostile place.”


Even though she has seen an improvement in how women are treated in the workplace and by society over her career, she is unsure if that trend will continue.


“The rise of online misogyny is a global gender rights tragedy. It is a powerful, decaying force taking a big step back in our attitudes towards women,” she said, describing how the security of anonymity brings unhealthy opinions to the fore.


“We know from our work countering violent extremism that dangerous attitudes online can translate into tragic situations offline,” she said about radicalization through the internet. “If extremist political views online can become terrorism, then online misogyny can manifest in the abuse of women in the real world.”


During the question and answer period, she encouraged women and all who are targeted online to press forward with confidence to create a new paradigm on the internet, but noted that it will take the concerted effort of many actors around the globe to achieve it.

But her remarks ended on a message of hope.


“We can’t let the world retreat to a dark place of ignorance and prejudice. It is our duty to share our expertise and skills and join together and turn our ideas and creativity into positive change.”


The author seminar featured Valorie Burton, author of “Successful Women Think Differently.” She said the original idea for the book started out as a master’s paper called “Successful People Think Differently,” and assured the men in the audience that they could get just as much from her talk.


That said, she did mention a few traps that women sometimes, but don’t always, fall into:

- Underestimate their own abilities,
- Err on the side of perfectionism, and
- Suffer from “impostor syndrome,” wherein a person feels as though they’ll be “found out” at any time.


She defined success as a harmony of purpose, resilience and joy. To achieve that harmony, she recommends taking up several different habits, all of which hinge on positive thinking.


“Success does not cause happiness – happiness causes success,” she claims. The idea is that positive thinking has been shown to improve mood and lower stress, so by learning to harness positive thinking, we can focus better and succeed in our tasks.


Author Valorie Burton at 2017 IC Womens Summit


Some of the habits she advises? Work from your strengths instead of trying to fix your weaknesses, curate positive emotion, and don’t leave behind ‘good enough’ in pursuit of perfection.


She also emphasizes that people don’t “go it alone” and recommends they find allies in the workplace and at home. “Women connect face to face,” she said, highlighting that this interaction and gratitude for the others in our lives help make us more positive and resilient.


The Summit also featured an associated luncheon with short remarks by Navy Adm. Michael Rogers, Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, and Director, NSA/Chief, Central Security Service, followed by a keynote by the Honorable Chai Feldblum, a commissioner on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


Rogers thanked all the summit attendees for their willingness to fight for change and be allies.


“If we want to make change, we have to drive it,” he said. “We have to be willing to fight for change. Change isn’t easy and it seldom comes fast.”


He noted that any preconceived notion based on various categories we place on people, like skin color, sex, or religion, cannot be tolerated.


“There is no place for that in our society. There is no place for that in the IC.”


Navy Adm. Mike Rogers at 2017 IC Womens Summit


In the afternoon, attendees had the opportunity to attend two breakout sessions of their choice. The sessions addressed issues like workplace harassment, networking, gender partnership, and even providing advice to attendees on whether or when to take an external assignment.


Later in the afternoon, all the attendees met back in the auditorium for a panel on diversity and inclusion initiatives from several intelligence agencies around the world. Among the panelists were foreign partners, featured for the first time ever at the IC Women’s Summit.


The panelists addressed questions like why diversity matters in the workforce and recommendations they would make to women as they were on their own career journeys.


For intelligence analysts, this business case makes perfect sense, and is regularly reinforced by leadership across the community. Without a breadth of experience and backgrounds, intelligence failures are more likely.


“The worst thing we can have in the IC is groupthink and an echo chamber,” said Corin Stone, the Executive Director of NSA. “It’s more than doing the right thing, it’s looking at things from every divergent angle.”


Each of the panelists was emphatic that women bring important experience and knowledge to the table.


“Judge me based on what I bring to the mission, don’t judge me based on what you think I can or cannot do as a female soldier,” said Army SGM Dianette Oyola-Morales, the senior enlisted leader for the NSA Directorate of Capabilities, to vigorous and spontaneous applause.


Later, Oyola-Morales talked about the importance of partnership.


“Every soldier is a partner,” she said. “It is detrimental to the mission when we distinguish between which service member is male or female.”


Expanding on that thought later in the panel Assistant Secretary of Intelligence Production for the Australian Signals Directorate Belinda Piper, addressed not just the challenges they’ve faced as women, but seeking to understand their teammates and being an ally.


The standard that you walk past is the standard that you accept,” said Piper, who said she was quoting a former chief of the Australian army. She also noted that attendees should look around their own bubble, and “Be aware of the challenges other people face.”


Each of the panelists also expressed that sometimes you have to carve your own way, rather than following the path of the people around or before you.


“Take the scary jobs,” said Piper. “Take the jobs that you’re not sure if you’re going to fail or not.” She spoke directly to an earlier theme of the day, which tackled the myth of readiness.


Stone agreed, telling the story of how she was hired into the IC. An attorney with all the right credentials and education, she had no intelligence experience, but was encouraged by her colleagues and mentors to apply.


“Know what you don’t know,” she said, “and be honest about it.” She said honesty helped her earn respect and gain allies who would be critical to career success down the line.


IC EEOD Director Rita Sampson at 2017 IC Womens Summit


At the end of the day, Rita Sampson, the IC EEOD Director, gave the closing remarks and acknowledgements to over 70 volunteers who worked to put on the summit.


One of her parting thoughts echoed the rest of the day to perfectly sum it up: “We have global challenges, and together, we can learn and change.”