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CIA Makes Progress on Women in Leadership

Five Year Study on CIA Women in Leadership Concludes as CIA welcomes its first female Director.

Who could have predicted that on the fifth, and final, anniversary of the CIA Director’s Advisory Group (DAG) on Women in Leadership, the Agency would have at its helm our first female director? There’s still work to be done, but the achievements of the last five years, and the work of all those who came before, helped lay a foundation that moved the intelligence community forward.

When the advisory group, led by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, released its “Women in Leadership” report in February 2013, it caught many people outside the Agency by surprise. From the outside, it looked like women were faring well in leadership positions at CIA. Two of the CIA’s directorates were led by women, the Executive Director of the Agency was a woman, and the first female Deputy Director in the Agency’s history, Avril Haines, had been appointed. Nearly half of CIA’s workforce was female.

The report found, however, that despite these high-profile appointments, many women at CIA were unable to break the glass ceiling. There were unconscious biases embedded in the culture of the Agency, as well as stumbling blocks that led to an unleveled playing field.

As one of the leaders of the implementation effort said, “A lot of the things I think women experienced here at CIA, I personally related to so much. In my 30+ years here, I never experienced what I would consider outright discrimination per se. But early in my career, I had managers who made comments like, ‘That was really well done. Good girl!’ or someone on a performance review one time wrote, ‘She’s as good an employee as she is a new mother.’ I don’t think that would happen today. People would really be called out on it. But back then, that was [acceptable].”


What has the DAG Accomplished?

The implementation team was formed in June 2013 to address Secretary Albright’s recommendations, which were aligned to three strategic pillars: foster intentional development, value diverse paths, and increase workplace flexibility.

Since then, the Agency has established clear criteria for promotion to the Senior Intelligence Service (SIS); required equity assurance training for officers who sit on promotion panels; improved how managers provide feedback to employees; launched a limited pilot for unclassified telework; and strengthened awareness of flexible work options [See links below for yearly implementation reports to the workforce]. Forty-three percent of the officers promoted to the senior ranks this year were women, and women now make up 36 percent of the SIS.


Looking Toward the Future:

“The goal all along was to work ourselves out of a job.” – DAG Implementation Lead

It’s now the end of year five, and the DAG officially concluded on June 30, 2018. Each of its deliverables have been transitioned to permanent owners within the Agency to continue to develop and grow our officers.

To institutionalize the changes sought, the workforce has to adopt and imbed them within the Agency culture. As the implementation team likes to explain it, “We grew these tools and resources as little seeds. We got them to the point where they could thrive on their own, and then we would transplant them to their gardens, teaching the gardeners, or in this case project managers and directorate leaders, how to care for them so that they can continue to thrive and grow, becoming a permanent part of the Agency ecosystem.”


To learn more about the DAG Five Year Plan, and to read the yearly reports, see the following:

DAG Reports:

Feature Stories and Press Releases:


Posted: Jul 11, 2018 04:23 PM
Last Updated: Jul 11, 2018 04:23 PM