Can Women in Intelligence Use Gender Bias to Their Advantage?

By Selena Templeton

Speaker: Valerie Plame (Former Covert CIA Operations Officer and Author, VEW, LLC)

This session was led by an atypical RSA participant, Valerie Plame, who shared her experience of being a woman in a man’s world: not cybersecurity – the CIA (though the differences are negligible). She grew up in a home where her parents never mentioned gender roles, so she was quite surprised when she realized that there were no female mentors in the CIA and that she was treated differently.

Like the cybersecurity field, when there is a prevalence of gender bias and no role models, change is as slow as molasses – which is rather ironic considering how fast technology advances. But Valerie turned the tables and used gender bias to her advantage: because she was a woman, nobody saw her as a threat or took her too seriously or really paid much attention to her. And as an undercover CIA officer, that worked to her advantage.

She was able to “prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear weapons” and “managed top-secret covert programs designed to keep terrorists and rogue nation-states from acquiring nuclear weapons. This involved decision-making at senior levels, recruiting foreign assets, deploying resources around the world, managing multimillion-dollar budgets, briefing U.S. policy makers, and demonstrating consistently solid judgment in a field where mistakes could prove disastrous to national security.”

At least, this all worked to her advantage until her identity was leaked to a newspaper from the White House and effectively ended her CIA career.

Valerie wound up her talk by reminding the audience that, according to a 2015 McKinsey report, companies that were “in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean.” So if you want to get the edge on your competition, diversify!


About Selena Templeton

Selena Templeton is the Column Editor for the Equal Respect column on ITSPmagazine.

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