Report - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

The Past, Present, and Future of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the American Intelligence Community

| Apr. 13, 2022

Featured in the Spring 2022 Newsletter »

Executive Summary


In over seven decades of study after study, the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) has identified a lack of diversity in the workforce as a problem. Beginning with a 1953 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report on women in the agency, tellingly titled “The Petticoat Panel,” organizations have documented a lack of presence and opportunity for women, minorities, and other groups including people with disabilities. Recommendations and actions were repeated over the years with marginal results. This paper reviews efforts of what has been done, what has succeeded, and what has failed as an important starting point for building a robust intelligence workforce for the latter half of the twenty-first century. It then offers recommendations for overcoming systemic challenges and fostering culture change to improve diversity across the community.

A key milestone for diversifying the IC workforce was Executive Order 13583, issued by the Obama Administration in 2011, which defines diversity across the federal government.[i] Personnel efforts have since used this definition, and the community of today is more representative of America than it was seven decades ago. Nevertheless, U.S. intelligence agencies have not progressed at the same rate as other government entities.

This paper examines the history of IC diversity efforts through an open-source literature review of publicly known IC initiatives, studies, and policies alongside observations from current and former intelligence officials, academics, and senior military officers. It unpacks why progress has been slow and identifies lessons from the past that can inform future efforts to reinforce America’s intelligence posture and capabilities to meet requirements of the changing world. This report is not the first attempt to grapple with this issue; it builds upon decades of dialogue between policymakers, intelligence practitioners, academics, and dedicated citizens.

We write with a high confidence that a diverse IC workforce provides the U.S. with a mission advantage. Operations and assessments which draw upon different views, backgrounds, languages, and cultures improve outcomes across the board and are more reflective of modern-day intelligence requirements. To President Biden’s credit, his senior leadership team has recognized prioritizing diversity for the community is a mission imperative.[ii] Sustainable progress requires consistent effort in a whole-of-IC approach and beyond. To operate in the world as it is, the workforce must reflect the realities of today and tomorrow.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Substantive reasons for insufficient progress on diversity include frequent leadership changes, lack of middle management buy-in, poor metrics, absence of accountability, and a cultural failure to embrace diversity as integral to IC mission success.
  2. Personnel numbers are classified and most, if not all, historical diversity reports were or are still classified, making it difficult to accurately evaluate past accomplishments. Lack of transparency fosters poor accountability.
  3. Diversity statistics are likely far worse than they appear because a significant portion of the IC workforce – contractors – are not included or counted in the metrics.

Key Recommendations:

  1. Utilize the intelligence cycle as a framework while continuously measuring, assessing, and acting upon the requirement of building a diverse workforce.
  2. Transparently facilitate a whole-of-IC accounting including public sector organizations and contractors to accurately measure and strengthen accountability.
  3. Leading culture change requires cascading, sequential actions to build cohesive momentum including clearance reform, outreach, education, and retention.
  4. Oversight and engagement by Congress, the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, veterans, and scholars adds constructive external pressure for internal reform.

[i] President Barack H. Obama, “Executive Order 13583.” The White House. August 18, 2011.

[ii] President Joseph R. Biden Jr, “Remarks by President Biden at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.” The Office of the Director of National Intelligence. July 27, 2021.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Miner, Michael and Lindsay Temes. “The Past, Present, and Future of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the American Intelligence Community.” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, April 13, 2022.

The Authors