On May 12th, Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, USMC (Ret.) joined INSA President Suzanne Wilson Heckenberg for a timely discussion about equity and inclusion in the U.S. intelligence community, as well as some of his own experiences both within and outside of the IC.
Discussing his preference for the term ‘equity’ over ‘diversity’, General Stewart noted that diversity is ‘easy’ – it is a numbers game. He went on to explain that equity is challenging, yet profoundly important and requires intention. General Stewart underscored that equity means that people of color and other traditionally underrepresented populations are not only comfortable having a seat at the table but are also welcome and heard at the table. To achieve greater equity, General Stewart highlighted the importance of equal opportunity in promotions and recognitions.
General Stewart also discussed the importance of leadership in creating space for uncomfortable conversations surrounding issues of diversity and inclusion. He noted that these important conversations cannot occur without building respect and trust amongst those in an organization. General Stewart stated that during his time as Director of DIA, he would often spend time in the cafeteria talking to people from all levels of the agency. General Stewart mentioned that this practice not only made him more accessible, but also gave him a lot of energy and insight into the agency’s culture.
Speaking to young officers early in their careers, General Stewart offered advice about the importance of building camaraderie and trust not only in the workplace, but also amongst friends and family. He noted that it is these relationships and the platform of trust created in these relationships that open up every other possibility. General Stewart mentioned that conversations that make people vulnerable can create immense change, and that it is important to start having difficult conversations at a young age.
Discussing his June 2020 op-ed “Please, Take your Knee off our Necks so we can Breathe,” General Stewart mentioned that writing this piece “was the hardest thing [he] had ever done.” He mentioned that writing it was emotionally draining, as he had to recount the things he experienced throughout his life, but also recognized that there is not a person of color that could not recognize their life or their children’s lives in that op-ed. General Stewart also noted that while justice, in the context of the law, was served in the conviction of Officer Derek Chauvin, he wants to see all those that continue to abuse people of color to get the same level of justice.
In his closing remarks, General Stewart presented the audience with a critically important question: is the U.S. Intelligence Community prepared for competition in the 21st century? He highlighted that need for the IC to leverage open-source intelligence and to contend with the deluge of data going forward. General Stewart also mentioned that if we are not prepared for peer or near peer competition, then we need to get to work.