As part of this series, I will be interviewing successful women leaders within the government. For my first post of the series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Letitia A. (Tish) Long, former Director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA). Tish is a remarkable leader who was the first woman Director for several high-profile government agencies and entities—but I will let her tell you all about it!
Q: Tell us a little bit a about yourself:
A: I was born in Annapolis MD and grew up in Glen Burnie MD. I was one of 8 children – which definitely helped me develop my team building and leadership skills from an early age. I attended Virginia Tech and majored in Electrical Engineering. It was far away enough from home (5 hours) that my parents didn’t just “drop in,” yet close enough that I could get home for a weekend if necessary. I co-oped (co-operative education program) with David Taylor Research Center (a Navy Lab) in Annapolis which means I alternated semesters of school and work – so it took me five years instead of four to get my bachelor’s degree. This is a terrific program where you get hands on experience while in school. I moved to headquarters in Bethesda after graduating and worked there for six years. I then moved to Naval Intelligence and started on my journey in the intelligence community. Half of my career was spent with Naval Intelligence and half in the “joint community” of DIA, CIA, OSD, and NGA. I retired in 2015 after having served as the Director of NGA for four years. I am now sitting on corporate boards (Raytheon, Urthecast, Noblis, D-Wave Government Systems); I am involved with several non-profits (Chairman of the Board of INSA, USGIF, Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Tech Hume Center) and I am doing a little teaching with Brookings Executive Education. Last, but certainly not least, I am involved in a grass roots, self-organized women’s mentoring network – the Amazing Women of the IC or AWIC.
Q: In your career in the government, did you ever feel like you were being held back in your professional growth?
A: I never felt like I was being held back in my career. I blazed a lot of trails as a result of a lot of hard work and having some wonderful mentors. Each job I had was better than the one before it. These positions included:
Project Manager at the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI)
Running all R&D for the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI)
First woman selected to the Senior Executive Service at ONI – ran plans, policy, requirements and programs
Rotational to DIA and ran plans, policy, requirements and programs for all of Defense Intelligence
Permanent position at DIA and ran all IT and Communications systems and services (first woman) and was the first CIO at DIA (2500 people working for me)
First woman Executive Director for Intelligence Community Affairs (policy, programs, requirements and resources for the National Intelligence Community – forerunner to the DNI)
Helped establish the Office of the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence for Community Management and ran the Community Management Staff (same title as job preceding this one)
First woman Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence
Helped establish USD(I) and was the first Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence for Plans, Requirements and Resources
First woman Deputy Director DIA
First woman Director of NGA and first woman to run a major National Intelligence Agency
So you can see I had many terrific opportunities. I got my Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering along the way, worked on numerous special projects and task forces, rode a submarine at sea for 32 hours in 1982 (!), and was part of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency transition team in 1995-96 (who knew I would be the Director 15 years later?!) It is all about your network – letting them know you are ready for that next challenge, stepping outside your comfort zone and doing a good job.
Q: What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership in the government?
A: I would say there are a few barriers to female leadership in the government. First, the view at the top is still mostly men. We are making tremendous progress but the norm is still white male. That makes it hard for women to envision themselves in those positions. However, a significant barrier is that women tend to hold themselves back. Many feel that unless they are 110% qualified for a position, they won’t apply for it. Men on the other hand will apply if they feel they are 51% qualified.
Q: What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you and what advice would you give them?
A: The biggest challenge is linked to the answer above – having the confidence to put oneself “out there.” It won’t always turn out just the way you want but you have to at least try. Don’t self-select out. There is also the age old problem of “having it all.” Women are still carrying the bulk of the load at home. So, choose the right partner who will respect you and enable you to achieve your goals – while not sacrificing their career. You can have it all – maybe not all at the same time and maybe not both of you at the same time. You will undoubtedly make compromises throughout your career. However, never compromise your integrity. Believe in what you do.
Michelle Rosa is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.