With the threats faced by the nation, we can’t afford to have anyone sitting at the table quiet. We need to hear from everyone now, we need every perspective, every insight, as soon as possible.
If the all-star credentials behind Monday morning’s panel, “A High Resolution GEOINT Community: Taking Action to Increase Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” aren’t enough to affect change, the go-getter style of its members most certainly is. As moderator Chris Armstrong of Veritas Culture put it, “You have a lot of voices here who are going to talk, yes, but talk about action and change and what change really looks like.”
In the immediate sense, it appears to look like the panel itself. “Look at what we’re doing today—this is the main stage discussion,” said Maisha Glover, senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton. “It’s Monday morning and we’re having a discussion about equity and inclusion.”
According to Glover and her colleagues, change also looks like including everyone in the room. Memories of being excluded or overlooked early in their careers were huge factors in driving home this point to all three panelists. “When I think about the threats we face as a nation—we can’t afford to have anyone sitting at the table quiet,” said Glover. “We need to hear from everyone now. We need them to provide every perspective, every insight, as soon as possible.”
Glover regularly polls team members for their input, cheering on those who seem especially quiet or hesitant. Tonya Wilkerson, meanwhile, commits to personally greeting every colleague who crosses her path. “For me it’s about incorporating one small action into my every day that would help to fuel the feeling of belonging and inclusion in the workspace,” said Wilkerson, deputy director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).
Panelist Jason Hall remembers the scrutiny he faced being the first openly-gay appointee to a Missouri gubernatorial cabinet, which to him underscored the importance of diversity and inclusion in his future career. “I saw both the best and worst of what it is to be the first at that table in a crushing confirmation hearing, dealing with issues that nobody else had to deal with,” said Hall, CEO of Greater St. Louis, Inc. “I always vowed, if I was ever in a seat to make a difference, I wouldn’t lose sight of that.”
Hall kept his vow through the launch of St. Louis’ GeoFutures initiative, a direct response to NGA’s decision to build its new campus on the city’s North side, one of the region’s most underserved areas. “We centered it on racial equity from day one,” said Hall. “North St. Louis is a human face of the racial inequities that we often talk about in this country.”
Asked to cite potential pitfalls to the broader DE&I movement, panelists ticked off a list of pitfalls including lack of commitment, accountability, and focus. And one four-letter word in particular. “Fear. Fear of failing, fear of speaking up,” Glover said. “We need to move beyond just the talking and reimagining and actually do it. It may not be perfect each time, but we have to move toward action. In this world, in what we face, sameness is not an asset.”