Closing The Gap

Women head the top three CIA directorates for the first time in history

CIA Director Gina Haspel leaves a briefing in the Capitol Visitor Center with House leaders on December 12, 2018, about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Women now head the top three directorates of the CIA according to NBC News, a major milestone for an agency long dominated by men. Gina Haspel, a former secretive operations officer and the first woman to lead the CIA, has named more experienced analysts and more women into leadership roles since her confirmation.

Haspel named 34-year agency veteran Elizabeth Kimber as deputy director of operations in early December. She is the first woman to hold the powerful position. Haspel also named Sonya Holt, who also has over three decades of experience, as chief diversity and inclusion officer.

Most recently, Haspel appointed Cynthia "Didi" Rapp as deputy director for analysis, the top analyst position in the CIA.

Rapp's appointment means that the top three directorates of the agency — operations, analysis and science and technology — are now all headed by women. It's a significant moment for the CIA, which has long grappled with allegations of gender discrimination and harassment, and has had few women hold top-level roles.

"Didi Rapp brings broad, deep expertise from across the Agency and the Intelligence Community to her new role as the head of our Directorate of Analysis," Brittany Bramell, CIA director of public affairs, said in a statement. "With her engaging leadership style and reputation for objectivity, Didi will excel in leading our talented analytic cadre."

Over the years, the CIA has substantially increased the number of women in its ranks. The agency's workforce is now nearly half women, both in agency analyst and senior management roles, according to the CIA's website.

And women have played key roles throughout the agency's history, even if they haven't always received public recognition for their achievements. A powerful group of female analysts known as "the Sisterhood," tracked Osama bin Laden and his connection to al Qaeda. Another majority female team identified Aldrich Ames, one of the agency's Russian spies.

President Trump appointed Haspel to lead the agency after tapping former CIA Director Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State. When she was sworn into office in May 2018, the administration declared it a battle won in the "war against women." Upon Haspel's confirmation, the CIA celebrated its progress towards gender parity, releasing a report that showed that between 1980 and 2012, female representation increased from 9 percent to 44 percent of mid level to upper-mid level positions.

But despite more high-profile appointments, many women at the CIA couldn't break the "glass ceiling," due to unconscious biases embedded in the culture of the agency, according to the report.

CIA Director nominee Gina Haspel is sworn in during her confirmation hearing before the Senate (Select) Committee on Intelligence May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images

"A lot of the things I think women experienced here at CIA, I personally related to so much," one of the leaders of the CIA report said. "In my 30+ years here, I never experienced what I would consider outright discrimination per se. But early in my career, I had managers who made comments like, 'That was really well done. Good girl!' or someone on a performance review one time wrote, 'She's as good an employee as she is a new mother.'"

"I don't think that would happen today. People would really be called out on it. But back then, that was [acceptable]."

Since the 2013 report, the CIA has tried to remedy gender inequities, such as requiring equity assurance training for officers who sit on promotion panels. In 2018, 43 percent of the officers promoted to the senior ranks were women, and they now make up 36 percent of the Senior Intelligence Service, according to the website.

The gender gap in the agency is closing, partly because those who joined the CIA in the 1970s have since moved up in the ranks.

Former senior CIA official Carmen Medina called Haspel's effort to bring in more women impressive.

"It's unfortunate we still have to talk about gender, because it's not really relevant to the quality of the work – it's relevant to the diversity of the work. But I think she's very brave for appointing so many women," she told CBS News.

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