If there is a glass ceiling at the CIA, it appears to have moved up a few floors.
Women are still outnumbered by men in the suite of executive offices on the famed 7th floor of agency headquarters.
But, with the recent appointment of a woman as the head of public affairs, five of the agency’s highest-ranking jobs are now held by women, a higher number than at any time in CIA history.
Among them are V. Sue Bromley, who took over day-to-day operations this year and holds the No. 3 job; Fran Moore, who leads the analytic branch; Meroe Park, head of human resources; Jeanne Tisinger, who oversees the agency’s computer and information systems; and Cynthia Rapp, the new head of public affairs.
A decade ago, there were no women serving as the head of any of the agency’s branches.
CIA veterans said the gender gap is closing largely because of the persistence of a group of women who joined the agency in the 1970s and 80s and made their way into its upper ranks.
“It is a generational thing,” said Mary Margaret Graham, who was among the first women to crack into the senior levels of the CIA’s operations directorate, and also served as a deputy to the director of national intelligence before retiring in 2008. The women in leadership posts at CIA now hit “all the career steps and had all the experiences,” Graham said. “They proved they were ready for bigger and more important jobs.”
Graham recalled that when she joined the CIA in 1979, she was among only five women in that year’s training class for the clandestine service, which sends officers overseas to spy. “After two years there were only two of us — the other three left to get married,” Graham said. “All of my mentors were men — there wasn’t a woman to be found.”
Barriers that have prompted discrimination lawsuits against the CIA in previous decades haven’t been eliminated. Men still have a stranglehold on high-level jobs in the spying directorate, long seen as a bastion of testosterone.
The head of the clandestine service and the Counter-Terrorism Center, like all of their predecessors, are both men. And no woman has ever held either of the positions now occupied by CIA Director David H. Petraeus and his deputy, Michael Morell.
But across the intelligence community, Graham and others see encouraging signs. Last year, Letitia Long (pictured at left) was named head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, making her the first woman to lead one of the nation’s 16 spy services. Stephanie O’Sullivan, formerly chief of the CIA’s science and technology branch, is now principal deputy to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
The composition of the workforce below the executive ranks also continues to change, officials said. Women have held dozens of CIA operations jobs in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials said, and have served as chiefs of station in major capitals including London and Paris.
“The director’s job is always going to go to a political appointee,” and is therefore beyond the reasonable reach of any career CIA officer, man or woman, Graham said. The more meaningful test of gender equity is the top job in the clandestine service.
“I don’t think there are any barriers to a woman as the head of the NCS,” Graham said. “It will happen in the fullness of time.”