Women in Intelligence Group Speaker Series

Posted by Kathleen Smith
Debora Plunkett

The Women in Intelligence Group held their biannual speaker series on April 30, 2013. Titled Paradigm Shift: Leadership Strategies for Surviving and Thriving in Times of Fundamental Change, the session featured Teresa Shea, Signals Intelligence Director, National Security Agency and Debora Plunkett, Information Assurance Director, National Security Agency.

The Women in Intelligence Group, a subgroup of AFCEA Central Maryland, hosts the speaker series featuring professional women holding senior leadership positions within Government and private industry.The goal of these sessions is to raise awareness of, and bring focus to, leadership challenges within the intelligence community.

Ms. Plunkett and Ms. Shea both indicated that one significant challenge facing the Intelligence Community is the collection, security, and timely access of “Big Data” in an environment where technology is rapidly changing.To tackle these challenges, NSA is moving toward storing and accessing data in the Cloud.  This solution will allow real-time access of tagged data and  involves changes to each organization’s core infrastructure and a significant culture shift that requires strong leadership.

Both Ms. Plunkett and Ms. Shea shared that motivating the workforce is important to mission success, especially in times of change.Understanding how to motivate and inspire your team is a valuable skill to have, as most people will buy into the vision first and the leader second.Additionally, leaders should surround themselves with an intelligent, strong leadership team that will drive implementation of changes to ensure mission success.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to enter the intelligence community

Ms. Plunkett shared that it is important for leaders to understand their strengths and weaknesses and to build on their strong skill sets, ensuring that they are technically proficient in their areas of expertise.  Ms. Shea shared that the community needs diversity of skills to meet emerging challenges; she said that combining different skill sets such as technical skills with language, is an assetto the workforce.

Both agreed it is also important to consider different opportunities that you may be exposed to along your career path.Ms. Plunkett shared that at one point in her career, she was encouraged to work in the 24/7 nerve center.Although this was not originally part of her career plan, she took on the challenge and is glad she had the opportunity to develop the skills she needed to be part of that team.Ms. Shea described time spent abroad as a Special United States Liaison Officer at the US Embassy in London, and how that positively affected her career. 

Ms. Shea also shared that language skills are becoming increasingly important in intelligence gathering and it is unfortunate that in academia language protocols are declining. Yes cyber is important but so are analytic and language skills.

Which leadership books do the panelists refer to

Ms. Plunkett recommended The 21 Irrefutable Rules of Leadership by John Maxwell

Ms. Shea recommended Monday Morning Leadership: 8 Mentoring Sessions You Can’t Afford to Miss by David Cottrell

Copies of both books were raffled off to two lucky attendees.

What about work/family balance and dealing harassment in the workplace

While many of the questions were strictly about management issues, there were still the two lingering questions that unfortunately pop-up in with frequency when women professionals gather: work/family balance and harassment.

Ms. Shea and Ms. Plunkett acknowledged that they have had to miss family outings due to work commitments, that their schedules are very demanding and that there have been struggles along the way, but that their jobs are personally rewarding.  Both indicated that they accepted their positions with full knowledge of the dedication and commitment it would take to successfully lead their missions.Ms. Plunkett shared that, in an attempt to keep a work-life balance,  she schedules her vacation plans a year in advance—this allows her to be fair and consistent with her colleagues and her family.Ms. Shea felt it was important that if you are considering taking an intel leadership position that you involve your family in the decision making process and to realize that it is an honor to serve.Ms. Plunkett agreed with Ms. Shea’s recommendations.     

The panelists as well as audience participants provided advice to the more junior professional who asked the question about harassment that still exists in the workplace.Many shared that you have to pick your battles and understand where the comments are coming from.While some comments may not be appropriate in the work place, they may not be malicious in intent or even conscious by the speaker.It is better to weigh the situation and determine when to bring attention to the unprofessional behavior.Both Ms. Plunkett and Ms. Shea admitted to dealing with interpersonal issues head-on, and indicated that many times bringing the offense to the offender’s attention will curb unwanted behavior.

Overall the morning was insightful and full of suggestions that attendees can apply as they move forward in their careers. 

The community would also like to recognize Colleen Kelly Dilly for her sacrifice and hard work to bring these speaker series to the community. Finally,  we’d like to thank Northrop Grumman for providing their facilities for the WIIG Speaker Series.

Join us for happy hour

The next Women in Intelligence Community Social Event is on June 18th at Gantech Federal. Join us by registering.



This entry was posted on Monday, June 10, 2013 7:15 am

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