The National Security Agency wants to know the secret to workforce diversity, and Debora Plunkett is the woman asking the questions.
Plunkett, the NSA’s senior adviser for equality, recently toldIn Depth with Francis Rose how the agency is learning from its workers, and what it will continue to do to take advantage of the experiences, views and opinions of its range of employees.
“I don’t think I’ve been surprised by any of the feedback, I have been taken aback a little bit by the passion,” Plunkett said. “Emotion, passion, grave personal and professional concern with members of our work force about their own progression, and advancement, and destiny, and about the institution.”
Workforce focus groups are just part of strategy the NSA has launched in an effort to expand diversity.
Plunkett has only been in the equality role for a year, but the Baltimore native has been busy listening to employees and finding opportunities to educate both the workforce and the agency.
“It involves taking a hard look at all the processes that underpin how we attract, recruit, retain, recognize, reward, progress employees,” Plunkett said. “The strategy continues to be a work in progress.”
While Plunkett’s current role is a new one, she’s been a member of the NSA for 31 years. Plunkett started as an intern and worked her way up to serving as the director of the Information Assurance Directorate.
In those three decades, Plunkett said she’s seen with her own eyes a change in the agency’s workforce demographics.
“It’s drastically changed over those years,” she said. “When I started at NSA, there were very few minorities moving in the hallways, very few women in senior positions for sure. Today that’s not the case.”
Keeping that momentum and finding other opportunities to foster diversity involves workforce input, as well as looking at best practices, identifying training opportunities, and finding a balance between the agency’s mission and who it employs.
“Ultimately our goal is to be the leader in the intelligence community for diversity and equality and inclusion,” Plunkett said. “But we care just as much about making sure we have the right balance of computer scientists against language analysts, that we have the right information assurance analysts who can both help us protect and defend our national security system. We care about all of that. It’s complicated as a result, getting that right balance.”