While attending the GEOINT 2013* Symposium in Tampa, Fla., last week, KMI Media Group Publisher and Chief Financial Officer Conni Kerrigan had an opportunity to take part in another meaningful meeting: a luncheon hosted by the Greater Tampa Bay Chapter of Women in Defense. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Director Letitia Long delivered the keynote address to a packed house, as almost 500 men and women gathered for the occasion.
In her speech, Long, the first woman to head a major U.S. intelligence agency, discussed her own experiences as a female professional in a traditionally-male dominated field and her commitment to helping other women succeed in the national security and intelligence disciplines. She began by noting the advancements that have been achieved by women in the defense community in the past years, citing the increased access to more military positions and the fact that three of four services have seen women rise to the rank of 4-stars, along with the growing presence of women in high-ranking defense positions.
“Perhaps most importantly, we have reached a point where it is now ‘normal’ for women to hold command, management and senior positions across the defense establishment. Perhaps soon we can stop talking about the ‘first this and the first that,’ and get on with the business of leading our organizations,” she said.
Long then delivered a call to action with three primary imperatives: to support female veterans, to increase efforts to encourage women to pursue STEM careers, and “above all, to have courage—to take your rightful place in your own organizations and empower other women.”
She cited NGA’s commitment to employing women veterans, which provides needed support to this rapidly-growing demographic and serves to help close the gender gap in STEM careers. This is an important cause for NGA as they strive to further their contributions in the intelligence community and need young women and men to enter the STEM field.
“Yet, women often fail to believe in their ability to succeed not only in STEM professions but also in management and senior executive positions. We often sell ourselves short—we take ourselves out of the running, believing that we are not qualified or not the best qualified for the next promotion. We can turn this mindset around by seizing my third opportunity. It is simply to have courage.”
Long then related a personal story where she applied this lesson to her own career: After having a junior colleague assigned as her superior at the Office of Naval Intelligence, fellow intelligence community leader Joan Dempsey helped facilitate an interview for an executive position at the Defense Intelligence Agency with General James Clapper, then DIA director. Long went on the interview and took the job, opening the door to further career opportunities and guiding her down the path that led to her current position.
“Every job has helped prepare me for the next one, eventually bringing me to NGA. When I have been willing to have courage and turn challenge into opportunity, everything has worked out for the best,” Long said. “Now, it is time for us to pay forward what we have gained. It is time for us to encourage other women to step out of their comfort zones. It is time for us to challenge our mentees to reach for something better than they think they can do. Like us, they will earn their seat at the table by having courage, working hard and smart, and delivering positive results. In conclusion, by having courage, by standing together and by paying it forward to the next generation, we will not only survive, we will thrive,” she finished.
Reflecting on her impressions of the luncheon, Kerrigan said, “As a granddaughter, daughter, sister and mother of veterans who served during wars and at home, it has been rewarding as well as challenging to take on the role of publisher of the KMI group of military magazines. Like many women moving into a once male-dominated arena, I’ve had to call on all my abilities as well as learn new ones. When Director Long spoke about stepping out of our comfort zones … she certainly hit the target.
“I am so impressed with the accomplishments of the women in the military arena, whether a soldier or a civilian. While the ‘glass ceiling’ may still exist in other industries, the opportunities for success are endless. My thanks to all those women to continue to ‘pay it forward.’”
Along with Long’s address, an award was presented to USGIF Chief Operating Officer Aimee McGranahan honoring her service to the defense and intelligence communities. McGranahan, also a member of USGIF’s board of directors, has been part of USGIF since its founding and has also worked as a project manager at Northrop Grumman TASC, where she was awarded the Northrop Grumman President’s Award.
Women in Defense, founded in 1979 to support the advancement of women in all aspects of national security, currently has 20 active chapters and more than 4,000 members across the United States. The Tampa Bay chapter, while only about a year old, already has more than 200 members. Offering networking and professional development opportunities, as well as scholarships, to members, the organization continues to grow and expand the scope of its efforts for all defense professionals. ♦