The New IC: Empowering Women & Engaging Men

July 14, 2022 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM

On July 14, INSA hosted its fifth-annual The New IC: Empowering Women and Engaging Men symposium. A capacity crowd of 250 government, industry, and academic leaders gathered for the all-day event at Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, VA, to hear esteemed speakers discuss the challenges and opportunities to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in the intelligence and national security space.  The event featured inspiring keynotes, panel discussions, ignite rounds, and collaborative breakout sessions that engaged audience members in how to maintain resilience and bring the lessons of the day back to their workplaces.

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Opening Keynote: Gina Bennett

Gina Bennett kicked off the day by detailing the ‘recipe’ that makes up the U.S. intelligence community. She started off by noting that the IC exists to support national security. However, often we equate that as safety and security against physical threats rather than threats to the sustainability of the U.S. constitution and its institutions. Ms. Bennett urged altering the recipe to include 'diversifying the bakers'. She noted how women instinctively know the difference between safety and security and this truth should be leveraged as a strength in defining our nation's security. The IC must expand its perspectives and approaches to national security threats and break away from defaulting to assumptions and approaches of comfortability in order to remain the vanguard for innovation in the national security community. 


Nontraditional Ways the IC Leverages Diverse Talent Pools
  • Christian Vogler, Ph.D, Professor, Gallaudet University
  • Peter Kant, CEO, Enabled Intelligence
  • Kiersten E. Todt, Chief of Staff, CISA
  • Nicole Gibson, Partner, National Security Sector, Guidehouse (moderator)

Kiersten Todt, Chief of Staff at CISA, discussed the importance of building a workforce that represents the nation and how CISA’s cyber security mission, primarily involving the ability to problem-solve, requires multiple disciplines beyond cyber. Dr. Christian Vogler, a professor at Gallaudet University, which serves the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, described NGA’s partnership with Gallaudet. NGA experts teach courses on subjects such as computer-human interaction and GEOINT. There is also a plan to build an annual Fall symposium to showcase the partnership and display student class and capstone projects. 


Peter Kant, the founder of Enabled Intelligence, which maintains a workforce with a high proportion of neurodivergent personnel, emphasized that intellectual diversity is about more than a participation trophy or a percentage an organization must hit. Hiring employees that think differently is vital in the human component of developing AI.

Ignite Rounds


  • The Hon. Sue Gordon
  • COL Candice Frost, USA
  • Patrick Biltgen
  • Janet Rathod

Sue Gordon – “When Decisions Diverge” 

In speaking about hard decisions, the Honorable Sue Gordon, former Deputy Director of National Intelligence, spoke about her “40-year love affair with intelligence.” She faced hard choices, relating to being a great mom or a great employee, being asked to serve as Deputy DNI on the same day she was diagnosed with cancer, and her decision to resign. According to Ms. Gordon, three things will happen when one is faced with a hard decision. You will want someone to tell you what to do – they won’t; you will want to find a magic formula to make your decision cost-free – there will always be a cost, and you will want the pain to end – your success is determined by how you move forward while bearing that pain. To find your way, Sue Gordon suggests that you be true to who you are, keep walking until you know what to do, try to see the end game, and understand that in any decision, you have more than one responsibility and that you are still you once you have made it.

Col. Candice Frost – “Being Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable.”

In Speaking about being comfortable with being uncomfortable, Colonel Canice Frost, Commander, Joint Intelligence Operations Center, USCYBERCOM, focused on her experience as “the only woman in the room.” Colonel Frost emphasized that the incremental changes one makes in the workplace turn into huge doors in congress or ODNI. She encouraged the audience to provide mentorship and push the men and women around them. For example, in seeing the lack of women in high positions at USCYBERCOM, the Colonel found that many women were self-limiting. Simply by pushing women to turn in their promotion packet, there was a 429% increase in female promotions in one year.

Patrick Biltgen – “The Worst Idea I’ve Ever Had.”

In presenting his idea to gamify intelligence analysis, Patrick Biltgen, Space AI Director at Booz Allen Hamilton, was told that it was the worst idea he ever had. Gamifying intelligence analysis involves building a trophy marketplace and assigning point values to tasks in order to earn them. As it turns out, speaking at a competition at NGA, CIO Dr. Littlefield loved the idea. Mr. Biltgen stated that the moral of the story is that people have different perspectives and that your role is to help others understand why your diverse role/perspective is valuable while trying to understand the perspectives of others.

Janet Rathod – “Career Clarity”

Janet Rathod, Global Head of Cyber Threat Intelligence at Citigroup Inc, stated that she was someone who always knew what she wanted to do, and no one could tell her differently. Until a pivotal moment when she said yes to one opportunity and no to another. Ms. Rathod advised that your dreams should evolve as you evolve. She says be relentless in your pursuit to understand yourself. These include your values, strengths and weaknesses, fears, and patterns of behavior. Understanding provides you with a pathway forward and makes you comfortable with yourself.

Afternoon Keynote - The Hon. Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines spoke about women’s progress in the IC and the disparities that have yet to be overcome. Director Haines called it “utterly crucial” to find nontraditional ways to leverage diverse talent pools and stated that the IC needs the exceptional talent that women can bring. Despite substantial progress, today, women comprise just 39% of the IC and only 31% in recruitment, revealing a 9% disparity in retention.

Women also enter the IC at a lower pay grade than men and are significantly less present at higher management levels. Dir. Haines said that data is vital to uncovering where the barriers are and studying intersectionality. For instance, while women make up 39% of the IC, Hispanic women only make up 3% of the workforce. Are women being promoted toward expertise instead of management? What data is being collected, what is not, and why? Other aspects of the multipronged approach the IC is taking to address DEIA issues are the creation of new positions, such as Gender Policy Analyst, holding meetings regularly with Employee Resource Groups, identifying women for leadership roles, looking for ways to make the workplace more flexible, exploring telework options, and instituting programs to attract young women. Finally, during a Q&A session with INSA Chairwoman Letitia A. Long, the DNI explained how important it was to talk about being a woman as one rises through the ranks. One person’s experience is not everyone else’s, and what is happening needs to be discussed.

Get a Life: Work-Life Blend in a SCIF


  • Maria Demaree, VP and GM, Special Programs, Lockheed Martin
  • Janaki Kates, National Security Consultant
  • Zachery Tyson Brown, Intelligence Researcher
  • Ellen M. Ardrey, Chief of Staff, DCSA
  • The Hon. Ellen McCarthy, President, Truth in Media Cooperative (Moderator)

The Hon. Ellen McCarthy led the panel discussion on the challenges of working in a SCIF and maintaining a work-life balance. With consideration to the varying policies of each IC agency, the challenges of SCIF life shared amongst the panelists included the inability to communicating with family and the lack of flexibility to allow for a stable work-life balance.  

Panelist, Maria Demaree, noted that these challenges serve as barriers to women in the IC as they often view their family and work as a binary option – with increased flexibility, the IC can break down this barrier and encourage greater participation by women. Panelists discussed how SCIF life is adapting to encourage greater flexibility through emerging technology permitting work outside of the SCIF with its enhanced security measures, COVID-19 fast-tracking telework opportunities, and greater use of OSINT capabilities allowing for more unclassified work. With an investment in time and resources, in addition to a commitment to collaboration on efforts to create flexible SCIF life policies, panelists agreed that it will be easier to maintain gender diversity at all levels of the IC.

Closing Fireside Chat with Tonya Wilkerson, Deputy Director, NGA

In the Symposium’s closing discussion, NGA Deputy Director Tonya Wilkerson emphasized the critical importance of DEIA initiatives to the U.S. national security mission. She presented NGA as an innovator leading the IC’s recruitment of diverse talent. Under her leadership, NGA has partnered with several organizations—including MITRE, Melwood, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Tribal Colleges and Universities—to identify and recruit underrepresented, top talent into the GEOINT space.

Moreover, NGA’s promotion of telework and reconfiguration of SCIFs put it on the cutting edge of redefining the work-life blend in the IC, enabling an organizational culture that supports a happier, more productive workforce. Beyond detailing these programs, Ms. Wilkerson stressed the importance of mentorship to the creation of a diverse workforce. She acknowledged that as a Black woman, the significance of her leadership is bigger than herself, motivating her intimate involvement in bringing up the next generation of IC leaders. Ms. Wilkerson’s strenuous dedication to mentorship, whether it be through her service as a math coach and STEM mentor to K-12 students or through her participation in NGA’s mentorship programs—is inspiring a new, more diverse generation of future IC leaders.