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CIA Senior Leaders Discuss "Smart Women Smart Power"

On Monday, March 2, CIA teamed up with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) “Smart Women, Smart Power Initiative” for a panel discussion on how leadership at the CIA has changed, CIA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, and how CIA will continue to be a leader in national security in the 21st century.

For the first time ever, women hold all five of CIA’s top deputy positions, and many more women fill senior leadership positions throughout our organization. Monday’s panel included three of these senior leaders: Deputy Director of CIA for Science and Technology Dawn Meyerriecks, Deputy Director of CIA for Support Elizabeth “Betsy” Davis, and Deputy Associate Director of CIA for Talent for Diversity and Inclusion Sonya Holt.

They sat down with CSIS fellow Beverly Kirk for a wide-ranging discussion on their varied paths to senior leadership and the people who helped them along the way. Throughout the conversation, all of the panelists emphasized the role mentors and sponsorship played in their careers.

Sonya Holt grew up in the Agency after being recruited right out of high school for an administrative position. She credited her mentors throughout the years for laying the foundation for her success and encouraging her to take steps to stay competitive.

“Early on most of my sponsors didn’t look like me. They were either white women or white men, but they were able to have those honest conversations with me,” Holt said.

Despite these differences, Holt was fortunate to have great mentors who saw her talent and wanted her to succeed. “I always found value in different perspectives. At the time, those were the individuals that had a seat at the table and in the room who could teach me things. So you know, open your aperture to just having relationships with individuals of all demographics and backgrounds.”

Dawn Meyerriecks also talked about having mentors who did not look like her. She graduated with 400 electrical engineers and was one of only nine women in the class. With so few women in the field, many of her mentors had been men, including former CIA Director General Michael Hayden who was present at the event. Regardless, she said the support she received made a tremendous difference throughout her career.

“We all have those stories we can share,” said Meyerriecks, who now looks to show the same support to the next generation of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) professionals. “People invested in us. And now, we really feel like it’s our responsibility now to make those same investments.”

Likewise, Betsy Davis attributed her success to the support she received throughout her career at CIA, and she works to provide the same backing to others.

“It’s made us look around and realize that at some point in our careers someone invested in us. Someone brought us to the table,” Davis said when talking about the women who are currently leading the Agency. “We need to identify the talent that is that next generation. We need to put them into the right jobs, connect them with the right people, and connect them with the right opportunities to make sure they can come up as well.”

CSIS’s “Smart Women, Smart Power Initiative” aims to amplify the voices of women in foreign policy, national security, and international business and development.

You can watch the entire panel discussion here.

Posted: Mar 05, 2020 05:27 PM
Last Updated: Mar 05, 2020 05:27 PM