There’s an interesting irony at work in the GEOINT Community. When it comes to technology, GEOINT prizes heterogeneity. Mission success requires having many different kinds of sensors in many different places that can collect data across many different spectral bands. When it comes to people, however, GEOINT is a canvas with few colors.
It’s not just GEOINT, however. It’s the whole technology sector, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Compared to overall private industry, it says, the technology sector employs a larger share of whites (68.5% compared to 63.5%), Asian Americans (14% compared to 5.8%), and men (64% compared to 52%), and a smaller share of African Americans (7.4% compared to 14.4%), Hispanics (8% compared to 13.9%), and women (36% compared to 48%).
That’s unfortunate. Not only for minority populations that could benefit from the lucrative opportunities that GEOINT offers, but also for GEOINT employers, whose mission demands the kind of 20/20 vision that can be gained only by having a diverse workforce that reflects the global community whose state and activities GEOINT seeks to understand.
To shed light on the problem, as well as potential solutions, the final main-stage panel at GEOINT 2021 on Friday morning focused on diversity and inclusion in the GEOINT Community. Titled “Building a High-Resolution GEOINT Community: A Discussion About Diversity and Inclusion,” the 45-minute session featured moderator Nadine Alameh, CEO of the Open Geospatial Consortium, as well as panelists Chris Armstrong, co-owner of Veritas Culture; Amy Aylor, program and human resources manager at Tanzle; and CW4 Gus Wright, a senior geospatial engineering technician for the U.S. Army GEOINT Battalion.
During a wide-ranging conversation that was born of their own personal and professional experiences, Alameh, Armstrong, Aylor, and Wright discussed why diversity and inclusion is an important subject within the GEOINT Community, what barriers diverse professionals face within the GEOINT workforce, what role allies and advocates can play with regard to increasing diversity and inclusion in the GEOINT Community, and how to evolve diversity and inclusion from a state of conversation to a state of action.
Because it’s rooted in complex systemic issues, panelists agreed that diversity and inclusion cannot be solved overnight by any one organization or any single individual. And yet, they insisted that there are small things that people within the GEOINT Community can do that can make a big impact. Armstrong, for example, said organizations should rethink their hiring practices and criteria. Take interview questions, for example. Who wrote them, and through what lens were they looking? Or take job qualifications and standards. Whose qualifications, and whose standards? Hiring managers must be aware of their implicit biases and reform their systems in ways that neutralize them.
Ultimately, though, panelists’ best piece of advice was perhaps the simplest.
“Just listen to people,” Aylor said. “Everyone has a story, and not all stories are the same … Take the time to figure out what a person’s story is, and see if you can connect with that person’s story.”
In other words, employers need to spend less time trying to develop diversity programs and prescriptions, and more time appreciating employees as individuals.
“De-program it, and humanize it,” Armstrong said. “Let people be their authentic selves.”