Because it’s front and center at GEOINT 2022, diversity, equity, and inclusion is front and center across the GEOINT Community, speakers said during a Tuesday afternoon panel in the Young Professionals Hub.
For the GEOINT Community, the GEOINT Symposium is something of a weathervane: If you pay attention to the agenda, listen carefully to speakers’ remarks, and take note of conversations overheard in the Exhibit Hall, you can get a pretty good sense of which way the wind is blowing. Attendees at past Symposia, for example, heard early rumblings about unmanned aerial vehicles, open-source software, small sats, cybersecurity, and machine learning, all of which went on to become major focal points within the GEOINT Community.
At GEOINT 2022, however, the industry’s weathervane isn’t just pointing at emerging technologies and technical requirements. Also, it’s very clearly pointing at the future GEOINT workforce—the success of which hinges on efforts in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), speakers suggested Tuesday afternoon during a panel discussion in the Young Professionals Hub.
Titled “DivergINT: Advantages of Diverse Perspectives to the GEOINT Tradecraft,” the session featured moderator Amy Aylor, program manager and human resources manager at Tanzle, alongside four panelists: Tony Frazier, executive vice president of global field operations at Maxar; Jessie Bleile, an analyst at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA); Ness Sandoval, Ph.D., associate director of the Geospatial Institute at Saint Louis University; and Aaron Kelley, president of UpSlope Advisors Inc.
During a 45-minute conversation that spanned subjects such as leadership, recruitment, training, and technology, panelists stressed that DEI is not only a moral and ethical responsibility for public and private employers in the GEOINT Community, but also a strategic imperative.
“We cannot afford to [ignore DEI] in our GEOINT work. We can’t rely on biases or stereotypes or the norm or what’s been accepted, or we’ll never discover anything new. We’ll just continue doing the same work,” explained Bleile, who said diversity of people creates diversity of thought—which ultimately leads to more and better insights with which to do the work of GEOINT. “In GEOINT, it’s essential that we open ourselves up to new experiences and new understanding.”
To foster the kind of “new experiences and new understanding” that the GEOINT Community so desperately needs, panelists said employers need to create new onramps into GEOINT careers for diverse talent. That can be accomplished, they suggested, by recruiting from universities that have diverse student bodies, creating internship opportunities for diverse candidates, creating certifications and education programs for diverse youth, expanding access to GEOINT technology in diverse communities, and awarding contracts to suppliers that employ diverse workers.
And yet, it’s not enough to simply attract and onboard diverse talent. To retain and nurture diverse recruits, employers also must be committed to creating a sense of belonging, stressed panelists, who said that can be accomplished with efforts such as leadership training, “listening sessions” with diverse team members, and employee-led affinity groups that can identify DEI challenges and direct grassroots efforts to develop DEI solutions.
To be successful, what these and other efforts most need are money and influence, suggested Sandoval. “If this is to go forward, then it needs to be [given] resources and power,” he said. “In universities we talk about this all the time: You can be really good at talking, but when it comes to resources and power it’s a different discussion.”
Although the resources and power aren’t universally available yet, panelists said there is nevertheless a clear path forward for DEI thanks to the undeniable momentum that’s behind it—as evidenced by its prominence at GEOINT 2022.
Concluded Frazier, “We need to use this moment to move the needle.”