The death of George Floyd, and others, at the hands of law enforcement officers has led to a national reckoning among many, including in government agencies. So it was no surprise that National Security Agency (NSA) staff asked for a meeting with the director to discuss racism and cultural misunderstandings inside the agency. This meeting came years after top intelligence leaders repeatedly said that diversity was a national security imperative. U.S. Representative Jim Himes even complained about it at a hearing in 2021, saying that the intelligence community was “pale, male, Yale.”
According to the Associated Press (AP), people of color remain underrepresented in the intelligence community, and recruiting has even gone backward since the mid-2000s. AP sources say there are reports on explicit and implicit bias. Examples included telling non-native English speakers they were hard to understand or that a Black man’s natural voice was “too loud” and “intimidating.” Agencies often funnelled people of color to jobs in regions, or to subject matters, where their ethnicity or background was more commonplace, perhaps reinforcing stereotypes.
One worker reported that a co-worker addressed his group using a racial slur. Another contractor claimed he was dismissed after reporting racist and misogynistic comments circulated in intelligence community chatrooms. In the past, it was once also standard procedure not to grant clearance to people suspected of being gay.
There have been support groups for LGBTQ+ individuals and other minorities inside the intelligence community for decades, and top officials have been aware of the lack of diversity; however, it remains a stubborn problem, especially as staff advance up the ranks. For example, minorities make up 27% of the intelligence community workforce, but only 15% are in senior roles.
The first woman Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, has taken the step to appoint diversity officers to collect data on why people of color do not advance and what disadvantages they face in their agencies. They will also help implement reforms that ideally will spur more diversity and inclusivity among the community.
Now is the time for meaningful change
While the intelligence community has made attempts to change in the past, the need in 2022 is more acute than at just about any time in the history of these organizations. The changes will not come without resistance—skeptics inside and outside the government may wonder if diversity is worth the risk of hiring and promoting “less qualified” candidates; however, that narrative is based on misunderstanding. Diversity hiring does not mean that a position must be filled by a member of a minority group. It also does not mean “lowering the bar” when choosing a candidate or giving “unfair advantage” to minorities. Diversity hiring includes actively looking for and recruiting qualified candidates among people who may be less likely to apply, and then following the same process and applying the same standards as a company would follow for any candidate. It remains to be seen whether these new efforts in the intelligence community in the last few years will bring about change, and it likely will come with a few blunders and setbacks. We can expect litigation if administrators offer only lip service to the new initiatives but fail to follow through.
Companies should consult with an employment attorney for any questions diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, and to develop policies and focused initiatives to achieve a diverse and inclusive organization.
Thatcher Law Firm provides management training, including Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Training, and conducts employment investigations for businesses. You can reach Thatcher Law Firm at 301-441-1400 and at www.ThatcherLaw.com.
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