Driving Toward Diversity: How a Diverse Workforce Makes Us All More Secure

February 12, 2019

Rita Sampson, Chief, IC Equal Opportunity and Diversity

A workplace that welcomes employees of different backgrounds, life experiences and perspectives is not just a goal of the Intelligence Community (IC) ­­­– it’s critical to national security.

“When you’re talking about diversity and inclusion in the Intelligence Community, it’s not just a nice thing to have – it’s necessary,” says Rita Sampson, Chief of IC Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity (IC EEOD) within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). “Our core mission is to provide decision advantage to leaders in federal government.”

A variety of viewpoints and experiences among IC employees ensures the broadest range of possible solutions to the country’s biggest national security challenges.

“Having a workforce coming from different backgrounds and having different life experiences, trained in small colleges or large colleges or different learning environments – these are the kind of skills we have to bring together to solve our problems,” says Sampson. “You can’t make the best decision if you don’t have the viewpoints, perspectives and innovations that diversity and inclusion bring.”

Because increasing diversity in the IC is mission-critical, initiatives have been developed to attract and retain employees.

Courting Top Talent

Sampson refers to herself as “a prime example” of a person who hadn’t considered a career in the IC.

“Through high school, college, law school, as a practicing attorney, the Intelligence Community never came on my radar screen,” says Sampson, who, by chance 10 years ago, saw a job posting for a senior leadership position in the IC. “I know there are other people just like me out there that are talented and looking for meaningful career opportunities and opportunities to continually grow.”

Sampson leads a team that is constantly reaching out to diverse talent pools through career fairs, campus visits and community forums to demystify how the IC works and to communicate that every skill is needed and valued – from math to business to engineering to computer science to communications.

She realizes she’s competing with the private sector and academia, but believes prospective employees will discover the unique benefits of working to help secure the nation.

“You get great satisfaction that you’re coming to work every day and making a difference,” says Sampson.

Making Employee Voices Heard

Once employees come onboard, they realize they are part of a community that appreciates and respects differences.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) within the 17 IC agencies encourage employees to advocate for themselves through group-sponsored training events, presentations, summits, mentoring, sponsorship, panel discussions and more. Enterprise-wide IC Affinity Networks (ICANs) bring groups, other employees and allies together to advance employees’ professional capacity and serve as a leadership partner. The ICANs include:

These groups help influence and shape workplace culture, policies and decision making, and also act as educational resources and IC-wide conveyors of professional development and strategic programs across the IC.

“There is a lot of peer education, and a lot of cross-cultural experiences that take place,” says Sampson. “It allows us to unify the community.”

Everyone Has a Role to Play

While Sampson and EEO and diversity professionals focus on diversity and inclusion on a daily basis, she emphasizes that inclusion doesn’t occur with their leadership and efforts alone.

After years of researching the IC workforce and after examining recommendations from the IC Workforce Concerns Report on how to make the community more diverse and inclusive, Sampson is about to kick off the “Small Steps Campaign,” which is centered around four pillars: awareness, exposure, action and social accountability.

The goal of Small Steps is to empower every employee to play a part in creating a diverse and inclusive environment.

“We want to make sure every member of the workforce has the tools they need to create a more inclusive workplace,” says Sampson.

Though the campaign is not necessarily a top-down effort, senior leadership will play a big role. In fact, efforts are being made to make sure senior leadership pathways become more diverse.

“Our annual demographic report shows we are making progress in the area of diversity and inclusion; at the same time, we have more work to do,” says Sampson. “We need to do a better job of making sure everyone we bring in experiences opportunities for advancement at the same level.”

Creating networking opportunities, offering mentorship programs and investing in leadership and skill-building training is paying off for one facet of the IC workforce: women, who make up about 40 percent of all IC employees.

“Women are advancing at a level that’s a little more than their overall representation,” says Sampson. “Women are being promoted and we’re proud of that. We want to make sure we’re owning the responsibility for creating a more diverse leadership team.”

Though a lot of work has been done to attract, hire and advance the IC workforce, there is more to do as national security issues continue to evolve.

“It’s never complete work; it’s ongoing work,” says Sampson. “You don’t just wave a magic wand and suddenly wake up more diverse and inclusive. It’s continuing work.”