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Diversity of Thought in Intelligence - Actionable Takeaways

Posted By AIRIP President, Monday, August 3, 2020

Thank you to board member Elena Carrington for creating this blog:

On July 28, the Association of International Risk Intelligence Professionals (AIRIP) hosted a thought-provoking discussion on the importance of diversity in an organization, including both diversity of a workforce and diversity of thought. We welcomed former CIA analyst and author Carmen Medina and former FBI analyst and professor Jorhena Thomas to the webinar, moderated by AIRIP board member and head of geopolitical intelligence at RANE, DeNeige (Denny) Watson.

We invite AIRIP members to listen to the recording and view the below attached document, but if you’re pressed for time, here are some of the salient takeaways!

On Outside Perspectives

  • Carmen pointed out that even if you present yourself as conforming to the traditional norms of an organization, the fact that you’re a minority (in gender, race, etc) means that you won’t be perceived that way. You may not think of yourself as a rebel but you will be viewed as one – and you need to be aware of that.
  • Carmen also noted that assumptions of an organization can be hard-wired, especially true of national security being wedded to a Western European, myopic perspective. If you’re someone whose frame of reference is another geographic region and you want those perspectives included, you’re fighting an uphill battle. This isn’t to dissuade anyone from advocating for a different viewpoint, but rather something to be cognizant of.

On Communication

  • When faced with a colleague who shares a derogatory stereotype or uncomfortable statement, Jorhena advises simply asking questions, like “why do you think that?” or “why did you say that?” or “where are you coming from?” Someone self-aware may take that moment to truly think about his or her biases, although Jorhena did note that this tactic might not work among non-self-aware coworkers.
  • Carmen cautioned that she has made statements that she didn’t think were controversial, but were perceived to be – characteristic of a minority in a majority environment. Be aware that what you’re saying might come across as abrupt or antagonistic, simply because the group or person you’re addressing hasn’t heard a unique perspective before.

On Hiring

  • One way to increase diversity in our field is to reconsider the level of qualifications that hiring managers establish for our roles. Denny shared a survey she participated in during her time at the CIA which explored success from employees with a bachelor’s degree vice those with a master’s. Her team found no statistical difference in performance reviews or career growth between the two degrees.
  • Carmen noted that college students hailing from lower socioeconomic levels may be juggling side jobs and/or struggling with the psychological pressure of being the first in their family or peer group to attend college. This can affect performance and take a toll on grades. Therefore, hiring managers may want to truly consider the skillset of a candidate who doesn’t necessarily have the highest GPA but can still bring tremendous value to a team.
  • Denny also nodded to the importance of diversity of thought, sharing an example of a CIA analyst with a bachelor’s degree in musical theatre and a master’s degree in applied math!
  • Carmen stressed that the ideal intelligence analyst is a member of a great intelligence team. “No individual has all the skills or perspectives necessary. We need to think about building a team that has the talent to analyze the problem that we have to tackle.”
  • Bonus suggestion! Create an ideal team description before creating an individual job description.
  • Jorhena pointed out that diversity strategies may require tailored approaches based on management’s resistance to change. She illustrated her point using a traffic metaphor:  fast cars with momentum can overtake pedestrians who have the same right to the road. Sometimes pedestrians just need some leeway to get on that road.
  • For a hiring manager reluctant to embracing diversity, Jorhena advises figuring out what argument would resonate. For example, if he/she is a data-driven person, point to the studies that show diversity is good for the bottom line. If leadership is more risk averse, offer to take on an untraditional candidate in a probationary status.

On Courage

  • Denny stressed that managers should be willing to take a risk on someone who “doesn’t fit the mold” or doesn’t resemble the current team makeup.
  • Carmen said managers trying to promote diversity might find themselves choosing between making a decision that’s right for career growth versus a courageous decision. She admitted the courageous decision isn’t always the right one. But we need to do it more often.

Final Thoughts

  • Carmen: “I don’t think we can make progress on diversity and inclusion unless we have trust. Trust does not mean absolute confidence that a person can do a great job. Trust is when you allow a person to do the work even though you’re not sure they will succeed. Trust is a muscle; you have to exercise it.”
  • Jorhena: “I would point to self-awareness in ourselves. You don’t have to be a hiring manager to help in this realm. All of us, no matter our role, can help by being self- aware: understanding why we say what we do, what we call our colleagues on, etc. Words lead to actions.”

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Tags:  AIRIP  Diversity and Inclusion  Diversity of Thought  Hiring  Intelligence Outreach  Professional Development  Risk Intelligence 

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