Director Leon E. Panetta Speaks on the Importance of Workforce Diversity
March 15, 2011
Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon E. Panetta today addressed several hundred students from Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University, emphasizing the importance of workforce diversity at the Agency.
“With a mission that comes down to answering questions, trying to deal with the huge challenges that we face, we can’t afford to have a workforce of people who all look and think alike,” Director Panetta said. “We need the different perspectives that come from officers with different backgrounds.”
The speech in Atlanta was part of Morehouse College’s Leadership Lecture Series and the latest in an effort by Director Panetta to reach out to ethnic and minority communities across the United States.
In 2009, the Agency launched a comprehensive initiative to strengthen its workforce diversity. The three goals of the initiative are: to hire talented people from all racial, ethnic, cultural, and educational backgrounds; to give all officers opportunities to excel so that CIA’s leadership ranks become more diverse; and to make the Agency an employer of choice among men and women of all backgrounds.
Director Panetta told the Morehouse audience that the CIA needs to reflect the world it engages. He explained that workforce diversity is crucial to CIA for two basic reasons.
“It’s a matter of fundamental fairness and the American way,” he said. “If a citizen wants to serve his or her country in the field of intelligence, it is fundamentally wrong if things like race, sexual orientation, cultural heritage, or disability stand in the way.”
Just as importantly, “It is crucial to our intelligence mission to have people who understand the world that we live in,” Director Panetta said.
The CIA has increased its outreach to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in recent years. Last fall, the Agency hosted administrators, faculty, and staff from 19 of the colleges and universities. They met with senior Agency leaders to learn more about the CIA’s mission and the career opportunities available to their students and graduates.
“I was so pleased to learn about the study-abroad and language programs here at Morehouse, at Spelman, and at CAU,” Director Panetta said. “I would strongly urge any of you who haven’t already done so to take the time to learn a second language and spend some time in another country.”
During his speech today, Director Panetta shared examples of Morehouse, Spelman, and CAU alumni who have made significant contributions to national security by working at CIA.
“Each of these officers brings something unique and valuable to the work of the CIA,” Director Panetta said. “What they have in common—and what they share with thousands of their colleagues – is a deeply held desire to try to solve the problems that confront this country, and try to keep this country safe.”
Director Panetta also reflected on his two years at the Agency’s helm. “I can tell you that this post is probably among the toughest of all the challenging jobs that I’ve had,” he said. “But because our mission is so important – and because the dedication of the people who work for the CIA is so inspiring – it also happens to be probably one of the most rewarding jobs that I’ve had as well.”
“Never before has the United States faced so many difficult foreign policy challenges at the same time, and never before has intelligence been as vital to dealing with those issues as it is today,” Director Panetta said. “The truth is, intelligence agencies are crucial to our democracy…We cannot be free if we are not secure. A strong defense and enlightened diplomacy are essential to that. And both must be informed by credible, accurate, and timely intelligence.”