How a Supportive and Diverse Culture Helped Land This NSA Employee Her Dream Job

February 2, 2021

Many people told Lareesha H. that she would never work for the National Security Agency (NSA) due to its perceived lack of diversity.

They were wrong.

“Through hard-work, late nights and additional schooling. I made sure I possessed the necessary skills to obtain a position at NSA,” she says. “In 2009, my dream came true - not only working at NSA but also in the exact job I wanted.”

“I always believe in doing the best I can with the tools I was given.” – Lareesha H.

Now an 11-year veteran of the agency, she recently reflected on her journey to NSA and the agency’s success in fostering a supportive and diverse work environment.

She said it all started with a motto she tries to live by: “If fear is the only thing that is holding you back, then you have a good chance at meeting your goal, because FEAR you can overcome with trying.”

Lareesha grew up a ‘military brat’ oversees before her family settled in Maryland in 1994. She was a typical kid who loved running track, writing poetry and shopping.

She attended Morgan State University and became a lifelong member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, a not-for-profit organization that provides assistance and support through established programs in local communities throughout the world.

“Delta Sigma Theta Sorority taught me that the sky is the limit, it is ok to step out of your comfort zone, and the reward you get from helping others is unmeasurable,” she says. “I strive to be a strong, effective leader who provides emotional support, career guidance, networking opportunities and resource assistance to my coworkers. When I see someone overcome a problem at work or receive a promotion based off my assistance; it brings great joy to my heart and it is why I do what I do.”

After graduating, her early professional life included working as a contractor for the Office of Personnel Management. In that role, Lareesha learned about different federal agencies and what they do. One of those agencies was NSA, and she was inspired to join an organization dedicated to protecting national security.

During her time at the agency, Lareesha has held several posts. She’s conducted background investigations, determined security clearance eligibility, and worked in Counterterrorism as a Compliance Officer.

Then she needed a change.

“Always, looking to learn, I set my sights on a new mission. I became a part of the USCYBERCOM Cyber National Mission Force for three years,” she says. “I then became a Staff Officer and now am Chief Intelligence Oversight Program Manager.”

Lareesha says one advantage of her current position is the work-life balance it offers. She’s thankful the agency not only allows her time to pursue her passions, but actively supports it.

“I have maximum flexibility to attend in-person/virtual sorority events that consist of community service and mentorship,” she says. “NSA encourages its staff to engage in such activities as it provides an opportunity for one to give back to society, but also provides guidance and motivation to junior-level employees.”

Throughout her move up the ranks, one tool Lareesha has taken advantage of is NSA’s employee resource groups (ERGs). ERGs are groups of employees who join together based on shared interests or life experiences – providing support, enhancing career development and contributing to personal development.

“I am a member of the African American ERG, People with Disabilities ERG, Women ERG, as well as Blacks in Government (BIG),” she says.

As someone who has worked throughout the agency in different departments, and as an African American woman, Lareesha has a unique perspective on NSA diversity efforts.

“When I came to the agency 11 years ago, I looked around and realized very few people ‘looked like me,’” she says. “It was intimidating, scary and often uncomfortable. Most people find comfort in knowing people are the same race, age or gender. It’s an unspoken bond and reassuring hand, even if you never meet the person.

However, Lareesha says NSA is much more diverse now than when she started.

“NSA is comprised of individuals of all races, some have disabilities, some are transgender, different ages, have different personal/professional experiences and are from different cultural backgrounds,” she says. “Any project you work on will be diverse.”

So what’s her advice for minorities thinking about a career at the agency?

“NSA can be intimidating, but it has a great mission, some excellent mentors, and the skills you learn are so valuable, not just from a professional standpoint but also a personal one.”

Lareesha says every day at the agency can be a new adventure, and the skills she’s learned have helped her succeed. Not just with her own work, but with helping to assist others when necessary.

“I always believe in doing the best I can with the tools I was given,” she says. “If those are not the correct tools, I make my own; ensuring the job is completed in timely and satisfactory manner. I recall a coworker who was struggling with a work project, so I stayed late to assist and offer ideas. She completed the project on time and received an award.”

Lareesha admits that, like any job, there are ups and downs, pros and cons, to working at NSA. However, she says working at the agency will teach you two priceless attributes, which to her are far better than any technical skill.

“You will learn Perseverance and Resiliency,” she says.

“Which will become two of your greatest attributes in life.”