The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has approximately 14,500 employees, but according to the agency’s deputy director less than a third are women. That’s a figure she wants to change.
“One of the reasons I accepted the role as deputy director is that I plan on working on diversity and inclusion along with the rest of our senior management,” said Stacey Dixon, NGA’s deputy director. She was named to the position May 9, less than a year after becoming the director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.
In remarks delivered at a HORIZONS Scholarship Celebration event Aug. 7, Dixon said women make up 32 percent of the NGA’s workforce, a figure that has remained steady for the past six years.
“Because we need to know the earth and understand the world, we also need a strong focus on diversity and inclusion ― not just because it’s the right thing to do. It is critical for national security,” she explained. “To understand the world, we need intelligence professionals with diverse perspectives that come from varied backgrounds. By adding cultural context to our global data, we’re able to (…) bring static information to life (...) and create more effective and reliable products.”
Women face unique challenges in the workplace, including imposter syndrome, “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts.” Dixon said women and minorities are disproportionately affected by imposter syndrome, especially when they look around the table and don’t see people who look like them.
In her own experience as director of IARPA, Dixon said she sometimes felt surrounded by people questioning whether she was the right person for the position. She recalled one such instance that occurred during a teleconference meeting.
“During one of these such meetings we were getting everything set up and we were sitting up front, and I said, you know, ‘Hello’ to the other person on the line. And then there was a pause. And then there was a pause. And then he said, ‘Is your director joining us?’ I had a pause. And I said, ‘I am the director,’” Dixon recalled.
Now, increasing the diversity of the agency’s employees has become a point of emphasis.
“Our new director, Adm. Bob Sharp, is personally committed to focusing on diversity and inclusion and making sure people understand that’s an important part of our mission, not separate from it. And we’ve made some significant strides,” said Dixon.
As an example, Dixon point to the fact that four of the seven most senior executives at the NGA are women and the agency has worked to ramp up women and minority recruitment efforts.
One ongoing effort is the Special Emphasis Program Councils, which are made up of volunteers and advocate for the needs of minority groups within the agency. More than 400 NGA employees take part in at least one of the councils. The councils also provide an opportunity for female and minority employees to network. In 2017, the Women’s Council published a study making several recommendations about improving issues related to career progression, harassment and discrimination, work life balance and more.
Creating more networking and mentoring opportunities like that is key to addressing the issue, Dixon said.
“When you’re at any organization, you look around the table. You see who’s at the table, and you see who’s not at the table,” said Dixon. “We need to attract, recruit, develop, and promote people who aren’t at the table. If the room is visibly absent of diversity, then there are barriers present. There’s no doubt about that. We need to help remove those barriers. I want to get to the point where I go to a room and I don’t have to look around the table.”