Imagine trying to get five kids out the door for school in the morning and briefing the President all in the same day. A mother who could accomplish these feats in a span of 24 hours might be considered a “superwoman.” The Central Intelligence Agency is fortunate to have one such “superwoman” among its employees: Gina Bennett.
Celebrated by Oprah
CIA officer Bennett was recently featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show during a tribute to "superwomen." Bennett was selected as a representative of all the women in the CIA and the Intelligence Community who work hard to keep America safe. The show asked for a photo of Bennett and her family to illustrate how important a supportive family is to a working mom.
Bennett originally captured the show’s interest after she wrote a book, National Security Mom: Why “Going Soft” Will Make America Strong, which is a humorous comparison of parenting to national security. Bennett’s publisher submitted a description about her to an Oprah show producer without her knowledge. The show’s producers decided to feature her in the slideshow and called her to tell her the good news.
“I was completely shocked when the Oprah Winfrey Show called,” Bennett said. “I thought it was a hoax at first.”
“It was especially meaningful [to be part of the show] because I knew that I was merely a representative of the many hardworking moms at the Agency,” Bennett said. “With so many negative or sensational images of the CIA inundating the public, I was excited to know that this one image would help send a very different and positive message about who we are.”
Bennett was unable to attend the show, but watched with the company of her family from home as she and many other women were paid tribute.
“While I was watching the show, I realized how lucky I have been over the years. I not only have a family that supports me, but I have also been fortunate to have had fabulous ‘mommy’ mentors in the Agency and the Intelligence Community.”
During the tribute, Alicia Keys sang “Superwoman,” which held a special meaning for Bennett.
“I thought it beautifully captured the strength of women and the trials and constant guilt associated with being a working mom,” she said. “I literally cried when I saw the amazing women whose company I was honored to share as Ms. Keys sang her tribute to all of us.”
For the Safety of the Nation
When the alarm clock goes off in the early hours of the morning, one thing motivates Bennett to go to work: the safety and security of total strangers.
“It may sound strange, but there are times when I know that nothing bad is going to happen in small part because of the work that I’ve done,” she said. “Then I feel like I’ve contributed something truly valuable.
Everything I Needed to Know…
Bennett stumbled on the idea for her book while preparing a presentation for a mentorship program about how to balance work and family.
“I was struck by the idea that what I do at home and what I do at work are very similar,” she said. “I was reminded of the saying that everything you ever needed to know you learn in kindergarten. I felt that all I needed to know about national security I learned from my kids.”
Although the idea came to Bennett easily, the writing did not. She spent most of her career writing in the Intelligence Community for policymakers and switching to writing for the public was not an easy task.
“It was a challenge to think about how to convey issues related to terrorism and national security without getting into the weeds and without sounding too ‘government-ese.’”
A Balancing Act
Like many other working mothers, Bennett has learned to master the balancing act that is life.
“I am lucky to have a husband who has a flexible work schedule and kids who accept responsibility when we need them to,” she said. “They also understand that they are partners in helping both me and my husband succeed in what we do. They may not fully understand our careers, but they appreciate being a part of them.”
That’s not to say that everything goes smoothly all the time. During her 20 years of government service, Bennett has had her share of chaotic days. Once, while volunteering at her children’s elementary school, she was called in to brief President George W. Bush.
“There I was in jeans with photocopier ink all over me entirely absorbed in helping a kindergarten class. A few hours later I was briefing the President,” Bennett said. “When I got home I had to deal with my child’s disappointment with my leaving her class so abruptly. To this day, I’m not sure which was the tougher crowd.”
Bennett also emphasizes the importance of having a family-friendly work place.
“My management has always put my family first,” she said. “I think that’s one of the extraordinary things about working for the Agency. It is a family itself so it understands the real needs of family.”
Bennett has many pearls of wisdom to offer fellow working mothers. The most important realization she had was when her own mother went back to work as a nurse during her childhood.
“I could not believe how many of her patients, who were very sick people, told me that my mom was a saint and how they just couldn’t have made it through their illnesses without her,” Bennett said. “In going back to work, my mom had not abandoned me, but given me a very special gift. She gave me the opportunity to enable her to care for people who needed her more than me.”
Bennett hopes to start working on another book about reviving a sense of civic duty in children that will be geared toward parents and educators. Her publisher is even considering packaging a children’s workbook with the new book. It would contain exercises and games to help young minds learn about government service and civic duty.
“The habitual depiction of Washington as a town that corrupts everyone but Mr. Deeds has unfortunately tainted the government profession. I think it would be wonderful to be able to correct some of that imagery and to inspire kids to contribute to the greater good by entering careers in government,” she said.