Why Lighting Other’s Torches Matters

The Listening Post

The Listening Post tells the stories of women in national security by sharing columns, interviews, and profiles of women who are ushering in the new era of national security. 

Colonel Candice E. Frost is the Director of Foreign Intelligence for the Army G-2 within the Headquarters, Department of the Army where she provides current and estimative intelligence to the Secretariat and the Army Staff and projects the Future Strategic Environment to the Secretary of the Army, Chief of Staff of the Army, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Army G-2, and Army Acquisition Executive. Colonel Frost assumes command of the Joint Intelligence Operation Center for Cyber Command in 2021.

The Listening Post — Over the past year the intelligence community had the opportunity to ask itself the hard questions on recruitment, retention, and promotion of both minorities and women. Demonstrable efforts to increase diversity is a necessary endeavor I have dedicated time and resources towards because in the intelligence community, if you can see it, you can be it. With that in mind, the need to increase women into this field is not a “good to have” but instead it is a “must have” to face the changing and growing threats to national security.

Over my career in Army intelligence, I have sought opportunities to serve in positions where the intelligence presented goes directly to decision makers closest to the critical decision. This desire to participate in the intelligence community, as an analyst for the military, has taken me to briefing senior leaders on drop zones, after airborne operations, to briefing the Secretary of the Army in the Pentagon. This incredibly purposeful profession allows us to provide consequential intelligence and information to decision makers in national security. After two decades of this work, I’m recognizing that the intelligence community needs to grow, retain, and promote more women with this type of dedication to the mission.

There are areas of monumental change in the military for women to serve and provide intelligence to decision makers in previously gender based restricted positions. Opening previously blocked positions provided increased opportunities for women in the military; but the rate of change continues to drip forward instead of flowing like a steady stream. Unfortunately, there is not a simple explanation to diagnosis why organizations have issues recruiting, retaining, and promoting women into positions of leadership but similar symptoms in many organizations demonstrate why the IC does not reflect the population of the nation.

If the country the national security field protects is half women, shouldn’t the agencies tasked with providing them that security reflect the same? A few intelligence organizations hover at the 50% women mark, outside of those two or three agencies, representation of women dips far below 50%. Retaining and growing talented women, once hired, is another area of missed opportunities. Lastly, when looking at leadership positions within the IC there are statistically insignificant changes over the past decade. This remains a moral blow to those mid-career employees looking at the landscape ahead. For these reasons I work to explain to others the criticality of having equitable representation of women in all agencies across the IC.

A story I often share with my peers, and those I mentor, asks them to imagine if the gender divide were flipped. This mental exercises places men in the minority position. I do this exercise by walking through a typical day in the Pentagon. Imagine, if you will, that you exit the metro, and the entire car is full of women. As you walk into the Pentagon and no one is dressed in laced up shoes, you are the only man at the turnstile. You walk by less than a handful of men all day long. Every time you walk down the hallway past the photographs of the chain of command, there is no one of your gender. When you look at all past leaders, in the entire history of the department or organization, there are zero who look like you. Then as you finish your day briefing only women, talking about their items of interest, and their sports of choice (the phenomenal American women’s soccer team or women’s tennis) you return home to ensure you take care of the majority of homemaker responsibilities and children. This exercise is not a complaint for the incredibly life I’ve lived, but a story telling method and exercise to explain how turning the tables gives people another perspective.

To change the script, I have dedicated time and effort to focus on methods to create change. The three areas of focus are recruitment, retention, and promotion. Individually, my methods of approach are through mentorship and leadership development. Collectively, the IC creates change through diversity and inclusion through the work of organizations like Women in the Intelligence (WIN).

Starting with recruitment, to increase the number of women, in both the intelligence community and national security, starts with bringing in more female employees. Efforts of equal opportunity and diversity in the Department of Defense exist, but few services publicly speak of their goals, performance measures, timeframes, or the monitoring of current or future efforts to recruit women, per a report from the Government Accountability Office in May 2020.  Transparency in recruitment is important, as are goals, performance measures, and an awareness that multiple approaches are needed. Recruitment into the IC from a select pool of schools currently creates a cookie cutter result of recruits. What makes the IC unique is the need for diversity in thought and in backgrounds. Paying attention non-traditional sources for recruiting equates to greater diversity from the general population. Additionally, creating multiple touch points with applicants throughout their college careers increases the visibility of the IC as an option for an interesting career. This takes more than just those tasked with recruiting. It takes mentors, those newest to the IC, to tell their stories, on multiple platforms where students look. Go to where students and recruits receive information and use those platforms to raise awareness. Employees of a similar age to recruits often tell the best stories and engage with those interested at the possibility of careers in the IC.

Retention is the next area of emphasis where the IC really needs to focus efforts on to create real and lasting change. Honestly, throughout my career, I have been told to be patient and that these things take time. But what if we flip the script. What if we purposefully went after solving these problems and looked in the mirror to be the person that makes the change? Chris Armstrong, certified diversity executive and former SES and Culture Executive, provides the thought-provoking example that, “Instead of saying change takes time what if we stated change starts now and starts with me.” The numbers of women at IC agencies has remained practically unchanged in the last decade. As author Daniel Pink writes, what motivates people is autonomy, mastery, and purpose. The IC gives people autonomy in their job to gain mastery, solving incredibly challenging problems, and it is hard to beat the purpose of defending the nation. Through retention, identification, and development the IC gains another great advantage and that is increasing the number of women in positions of leadership.

Seeing the leaders of today becoming the senior leaders of tomorrow requires representation to assist in the promotion of women in the IC. With women the glass ceiling is not always transparent and breakable. Sometimes it is bullet proof glass or even a brick wall. As stated in the example earlier in the article, the lack of women as role models leads to junior employees questioning the agency’s commitment to diversity. Visually seeing role models of women is both powerful and inspiring. To create such leaders takes a commitment to leadership development. Challenge women in organizations and provide leadership opportunities, even if that requires multiple requests. In both civilian and military career boards find mentorship opportunities, review resumes, and ask women about their current job, ideal job, and dream job. Both listening and encouragement of women increases the likelihood for promotion into leadership positions. As a mentor, opportunities to serve as a secret decoder ring provides growth, and possible promotions in IC agencies, take that responsibility seriously.

Demonstrable opportunities available in leadership roles increases women’s motivation to pursue professional opportunities. The more women who populate the pipelines to power, the better positioned they will become to assume leadership roles in the future. Investments today will prove fruit for a better tomorrow. It starts with us and it must begin now.

Read The Listening Post: Sue Gordon’s Journey from CIA Analyst to PDDNI exclusively in The Cipher Brief

Read The Listening Post: Tish Long: Taking the Long Way to a Rewarding Career exclusively in The Cipher Brief

Read more expert-driven national security insights, perspective and analysis in The Cipher Brief


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