CIA Diversity Study Blasts Agency Failures

An internal report released by the Central Intelligence Agency on Tuesday concluded “senior leadership of the agency is not committed to diversity there has been little progress over the past several decades in diversifying the leadership cadre and pipeline, and in sustaining the hiring of diverse officers.”


The Diversity in Leadership Study (DLS), led by civil rights activist and CIA external board member Vernon Jordan, said that “the leadership of the CIA, over an extended period, has failed to recognize that diversity is critical to the mission of any complex organization” and also identified “a dramatic gap between the composition of the workforce and that of the leadership ranks.”

According to the report, racial and ethnic minority officers make up 23.9 percent of the entire CIA workforce but account for only 10.8 percent of the Senior Intelligence Service (SIS). Among senior managers, known as GS-15s in terms of government pay scales, minorities make up 15.2 percent. A similar gap between the workforce and the leadership ranks exists for minority female officers and officers with disabilities.

Additionally, in the 10-year period from 2004 through 2014, the number of African American SIS officers has declined in both actual numbers and as a percentage of the SIS.

The study also found the occupations that most commonly serve as paths to executive ranks (analysis, technical intelligence and operations) have minority representation lower than 10 percent at the GS-15 level or above, with only two members of the CIA’s senior staff being minority officers.

In comparison, the data for companies in DiversityInc’s Top 10 shows that women make up 50.2 percent of management, with Latinos, Blacks and Asians representing nearly 30 percent. In senior management ranks, women represent 33 percent, with Latinos, Blacks and Asians representing almost 20 percent.

The study group, which gathered data from thousands of CIA officers via surveys, focus groups and interviews, identified five key factors limiting diversity in senior leadership across the organization: failure of leadership in making the engagement and development of every officer an equal priority, a general lack of accountability in promoting diversity, the absence of an inclusive culture, a consistent failure to integrate the management of talent and a deficient recruiting process.

“The study group took a hard look at our agency and reached an unequivocal conclusion: CIA simply must do more to develop the diverse and inclusive leadership environment that our values require and that our mission demands,” said CIA Director John Brennan in a statement.

“The study found cultural, management and organizational issues that contribute to a lack of diversity in the agency’s leadership,” he added. “Specifically, the agency does not sufficiently prioritize the development of its officers, hold itself accountable for maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace, or consistently promote an inclusive culture.”

The purpose of the study was not only to suggest policy objectives but to offer concrete steps for the future. In response, Brennan said he ordered that by October 1 a new performance objective for Senior Intelligence Service officers “will require that they be evaluated on their actions to create, maintain, and sustain a diverse and inclusive environment.” Within the next year, he added, every officer on his senior leadership team will attend diversity and inclusion training.

The lack of diversity at CIA is nothing new, the report noted. In 2006, former Director Michael Hayden wrote in connection with a previous evaluation of diversity in the CIA:

“A lack of diversity of thought and experience was identified by congressional committees and independent commissions as contributing to past intelligence failures. That diversity is mission-critical is no longer a debatable proposition if it ever was. The business case for diversity has been made, and just as private industry is responding to affect their bottom line, we must respond appropriately to drive mission success.”

Additional details from the report attributed to diversity failures at CIA:

1) Leadership Agency leaders, managers, and supervisors do not prioritize diversity in leadership.

2) Accountability The Agency does not hold its leadership accountable for creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace.

3) Lack of Inclusive Culture Agency officers experience the CIA differently based on their race, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation; and some officers believe they are stereotyped based on their ethnic background. In practice, the Agency does not recognize the value of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, nor consistently promote an inclusive, “speak-up” culture where all opinions are heard, valued, and taken into account.

4) Integrated Talent Management The CIA lacks a consistent talent management framework to credibly develop all Agency officers or to effectively identify or prepare future leaders.

5) Recruitment Recruitment efforts to increase the diversity of the workforce have not been a priority. Since 2008 the percentage of minorities hired has declined to levels lower than what is necessary to sustain the level of minority representation in the current workforce.

6) Networks The quality of professional networks, defined as agency-sponsored employee groups, such as employee councils or mentoring programs, is critical to career advancement, but not all agency officers have the access to, or comfort with, existing formal and informal networks.

“On the surface, the experiences of minority officers, officers with a disability, and LGBT officers differ in small and subtle ways,” the report said. “But over time the cumulative effect of these differences may have a substantial impact on the career growth, outlook and engagement of these officers.”

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