National Security Adviser Rice: Security workforce lacks diversity

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( – National Security Adviser Susan Rice told graduates at Florida International University in Miami, Fla., recently that the U.S. intelligence community is too white and male.

“Too often, our national security workforce has been what former Florida Senator Bob Graham called ‘white, male, and Yale.’ In the halls of power, in the faces of our national security leaders, America is still not fully reflected,” she said in a commencement speech on May 11.

“I’m privileged to work with brilliant and dedicated professionals across our government, but we must acknowledge that our national security agencies have not yet drawn fully on the strengths of our great nation,” Rice said. “Minorities still make up less than 20 percent of our senior diplomats, less than 15 percent of senior military officers and senior intelligence officials.

“Why should we care? For starters, a diverse national security workforce enables us to unlock all of our nation’s talent. There are some 320 million people in the United States.  Nearly 40 percent are minorities, and an increasing number of them are earning college and graduate degrees,” Rice noted.

“As America becomes more diverse, so do our best people. The next Colin Powell or Madeleine Albright or Bill Richardson is out there. Our country—and our policies—will be stronger if we can bring them on-board,” she said.

“By now, we should all know the dangers of ‘groupthink,’ where folks who are alike often think alike. By contrast, groups comprised of different people tend to question one another’s assumptions, draw on divergent perspectives and experiences, and yield better outcomes,” Rice said.

“Whether we’re confronting ISIL or Ebola, cybersecurity or climate change, solving today’s multifaceted global challenges demand more varied viewpoints and experiences than ever,” she said. “Intelligence analysts, diplomats and military officers who are native speakers may pick up subtle nuances that might otherwise go unnoticed.

“Diplomats who can read cultural cues may better navigate the political and social currents of a foreign nation. In sum, leaders from diverse backgrounds can often come up with more creative insights, proffer alternative solutions, and thus make better decisions,” Rice said.

“Moreover, we want our national security leaders to reflect America’s best self to the world and inspire others to follow our example. Not by preaching pluralism and tolerance, but by practicing it,” she said.

“Think of the LGBT person in Bangladesh who knows that someone at the American embassy understands who she is. Think of the Iraqi soldier, learning to fight alongside Iraqis from other religious sects, who takes inspiration from America’s own multi-ethnic force,” Rice said.

“Think of young Haitians drawn to converse with a Foreign Service officer who has dreadlocks like their own—or our Ambassador to India, Richard Verma, showered with rose petals when he visits his grandmother’s ancestral home in Punjab. That is how we build bridges and deepen partnerships in an increasingly globalized world,” she added.

“So, I’m not talking about a human resources issue. I’m highlighting a national security imperative. The presidential seal in the Oval Office and the Situation Room bears the inscription, ‘E pluribus unum’—out of many, we are one. That must always be the source of our success and our strength,” Rice said.

“Without tapping into America’s full range of races, religions, ethnicities, language skills, and social and economic experiences, we’re leading in a complex world with one hand tied behind our back,” she said.

Rice noted that President Barack Obama “feels strongly” about the need to diversity the national security workforce, as does Rice and “many other national security leaders.”

In 2011, Obama “signed an executive order prioritizing diversity and inclusion throughout the government,” she said. “As I speak, we are pursuing ways to recruit and retain more diverse national security talent, but, we’ve got a long way to go, and that’s where you come in.

“I know there are many career paths you could choose. For some of you, the first in your families to graduate from college, a lucrative job in law or business may be highly attractive, but your country needs you. We need the global approach you’ve honed at SIPA. We need your smarts, your skills, and, yes, the brilliant mosaic of experiences you carry with you,” Rice said.

— Written by Melanie Hunter