At a recent Women in Defense national conference, Ellen McCarthy, the chief operating officer of National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), spoke about the unique challenges facing women in today’s defense establishment and took a look back at the careers of two accomplished women in defense: Letitia Long, the current director of NGA, and herself.
“The Director of NGA Letitia Long — among many others — has achieved the highest levels of responsibility in the Intelligence Community,” said McCarthy. “And look around this audience! Women have risen to the highest levels in the defense industry. Everyone here is a fine example of the progress we have made. Perhaps most important, we have reached a point where it is now ‘normal’ for women to hold command, management, and senior positions across the defense establishment. We have made great progress, and we will continue to make even more progress in the next 35 years! And I am certain Women in Defense will remain our strong and effective advocate!”
“Today, I want to encourage each of you personally and this organization as a group to seize three opportunities to thrive with character, courage, and commitment: Support women veterans, redouble your efforts to encourage women of all ages to step up to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers, and above all, be brave! Step up to take your rightful place in your organizations, and lead other women to follow you.”
“NGA has a strong commitment to closing the gap in STEM careers. As you may know, our Director, Letitia Long, has two degrees in engineering — a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech and a master’s in mechanical engineering from Catholic University.”
“Her own story is remarkable. She has risen from a college research intern with the David Taylor Naval Research Laboratory to become the first woman Director of a major intelligence agency. She is a role model for every woman in the community, and she has a strong personal commitment to encouraging women in STEM careers. So, we are eagerly hunting for diverse talent among veterans, the disabled, and historically black colleges and universities. Remember that we must encourage not just young women students, but especially women veterans and women returning to the workforce as they raise their families. Remember, too, that it wasn’t very long ago that women were discouraged and even ostracized from pursuing careers in anything having to do with science, technology, or analysis.”
“Be Brave! That is my philosophy when it comes to my career and my life. Being brave and taking calculated risks is the only way you earn rewards.”
“I went from writing stories as a junior reporter to overseeing the daily operations of an intelligence agency because I was willing to take some risks and be brave. In my own career, as a young woman, I worked at several traditional jobs for a number of years. Then I became a news reporter. These jobs helped me build my character and gain confidence. Too many times today I see younger workers afraid to do even those types of jobs to start their journey. While I worked as a reporter, my editor encouraged me to try working in the intelligence community. To go from being a reporter to starting a career in the IC required me to be brave and take a chance. But I made a decision to leave my comfort zone. I began as a technical research analyst at the Institute for Defense Analysis. Since then, I have worked across the community in seven positions of increasing responsibility.”
“I have worked for the Office of Naval Intelligence, Atlantic Fleet, the former US Joint Forces Command, the US Coast Guard, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. I am thankful I decided to be brave because I am now Chief Operating Officer for NGA. It has been quite a ride for me. It has been fun. I have enjoyed what I have done. I believe I have made a positive difference everywhere I have worked. But I am just one small example of the path followed by hundreds of thousands of women across the defense community.”