Undercover Grrl Band Techno Rave

Friday I had an interesting meeting with Dawn Meyerriecks, who has just begun her new role as the Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Acquisition and Technology. (Read the DNI’s statement on her appointment here in pdf, her bio here, and some reaction – all positive – here and here.)

Never mind what we actually were talking about, she asked me in so it isn’t appropriate to write about that. But to be honest I spent my drive home thinking about the atmospherics and significance of her holding that post in any case.  In a companion post later (“The Purple History of Intelink“) I’ll comment on the significance of her prior background in the Defense Department.

But more striking, right off the bat, is the fact that DNI Dennis Blair has an impressive number of women in high-ranking senior leadership positions. And it’s not just the number, but the particular positions they hold that I like: Dawn Meyerriecks is DDNI/A&T, Priscilla Guthrie is Assistant DNI and Chief Information Officer, Marilyn Vacca is Assistant DNI and Chief Financial Officer. Lisa Porter leads the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency IARPA (I’ve written about her before).

The scientific, technical, and financial leadership of the U.S. intelligence community are all women!

Now, overall that’s not equal parity in numbers, but it would make the legendary Rear Admiral Grace Hopper (mother of COBOL) proud, and should serve as an interesting motivational spur to the broader movement to have women better represented in the sciences, in engineering, in STEM technical fields of all kinds – an effort which begins in our educational system with local projects like the neat Women in Technology Project in Maui and but continues through professional activities such as Women in Technology International (the WITI professional association, with an impressive advisory board that includes techno-cosmonaut Esther Dyson). We’ve even witnessed active movements in the last couple of years to attack the challenge of appropriately including representative numbers of women at tech conferences. 

For more on many of those efforts you can follow the excellent “Tech Her” blog by Telle Whitney, who has been instrumental in the phenomenal Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, “a series of conferences designed to bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront.” Every woman I know in technology – and many men – either attended or wanted to attend the Grace Hopper Conference this fall in Tucson.

I’m also impressed by the newly-launched Stemming.org, a collaborative blog/community for women in science, technology and math, launched by Cambridge, MA programmer and web designer Clara Raubertas.

During my time in Silicon Valley I knew celebrated women CEOs (Kim Polese, Carol Bartz) who were conscious role models but first and foremost were great technologists, and this issue is typically framed by an understandable focus on women CEOs. Susan Wilson Solovic, CEO of SBTV.com, has written about the gender disparity on the CEO front and lists a number of causal factors beyond the gender socialization at young ages. Fast Company also does a regular list (“Women in Tech: the Entrepreneurs“).

But to my thinking another important metric is a bit lower and throughout organizations: watching the number of women in key technical positions throughout an enterprise. At Microsoft we’re rich in that way, including many of my friends in Microsoft Research, like Natasa Milic-FraylingLili ChengJennifer Chayes, and danah boyd. From my own experience in the IC, I know the Grrl Band now astride the intelligence community to represent a large and increasing number of talented female scientists, engineers, technologists, and financial wizards in the community. Most can’t be named (you know who you are), and their ranks should be still larger.

As a final motivational mark, here’s a very neat video from the recent Grace Hopper Conference, “I am a Technical Woman.”

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6 Responses

  1. And let’s not forget the Deputy CIO, Sherrill Nicely.

  2. You’re right, Bob – Sherrill along with several prominent Agency deputies. A reader also pointed out on Twitter that DHS now has a female director as well, and they’re certainly a valued component in the IC. All good stuff.

  3. […] Undercover Grrl Band Techno Rave […]

  4. […] This post was Twitted by cheeky_geeky […]

  5. Thanks for the post, Lewis!

  6. Past performance helps define potential for both women & men; current performance tells us if they are living up to potential. Current performance by many of the leaders of the IC has been marred by lack of openness and transparency (e.g. communications) with the IC’s workforce. This does not need to be unclassified but does need to occur so that decisions like the closure of a key unclassified communications network or unexpected close out of most analytic R&D programs are totally coordinated and then well understood when the decisions are made. I don’t believe lack of communications reflects on gender but rather on leadership. Unfortunately when a female leader does not perform to potential, the damage is often more extensive and subversive because the gates are often set higher for women (a double standard in both technical and non-technical positions). It is also true that there is a long way from innovative thinking to successful execution. Deeply hierarchical rice bowls among multiple agencies have broken both male and female leaders in the IC. However, I do wish Dawn Meyerriecks well in her new position.

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