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Diversity Necessary for National Security Innovation

Hiring for a variety of skills and backgrounds will ensure the defense community has the scope of talent necessary to fully modernize and maintain its strategic edge.

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Leadership within U.S. defense and national security have found that hiring for a range of talents and backgrounds is necessary for modernizing the military as a whole and advancing America’s strategic edge.

Speaking at the GovernmentCIO Media & Research Women Tech Leaders virtual event, representatives from across the Defense Department and U.S. Armed Forces discussed efforts to ensure the DOD is adapting to a rapidly changing operational environment while expanding recruiting as well. As the military works toward multi-domain operations, ongoing collaboration across the defense community, especially when it comes to recruitment, will continue to be a key component.

Much of this has consisted of efforts to project future changes in the overall strategic environment, and adapting the DOD’s culture and organization to facilitate innovation necessary to meet these challenges. This includes initiatives that bring together an array of talents and learning within a single hub to implement new technologies.

“This is where efforts like Project Convergence come in. Where we are actively learning and are finding ways to move the organization forward. So it’s not just activity, it’s progress in bringing in different modeling and simulations. We have an Army Persistent Experimentation Network that we are starting to be able to link to our battle labs so that the different lessons that they’re learning are pulling things forward. So in finding new ways to test systems that are faster, have farther ranges, and greater speed, we’re developing the ability to achieve convergence. Using technologies in a different way to be able to make sure that our soldiers, leaders and commanders are best prepared for that,” said Brig. Gen. Stephanie Ahern, director of concepts at the Army Futures Command, which is leading the Army’s contribution to the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) initiative.

Other defense leaders have shared how they’ve ensured both onboarding processes and remote work capacities allow for recruiting of critical talent — including those who might not have previously fallen within the standard scope of recruitment.

“We have to accommodate many different techniques and different processes to take advantage of this talent that we wanted to hire. But also recognize this is decentralized, and they’re not coming into a location to get their IT or to learn what the culture is of the organization. So, in order to keep innovative people you have to develop innovative processes to make sure that they feel like a member of the team, so that they understand your baseline cultural requirements and what your organizational dynamics are going to be,” said Monica Farah-Stapleton, technical director at the Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization (FEHRM) office.

The abrupt changes of the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in parents having to provide greater care for their children during work hours, a responsibility that the panelists said have often fallen more heavily on women. Many of these changes were designed to provide greater work-life balance for women employees, efforts that have allowed them to bring their skills and expertise into the DOD while allowing them greater space to attend to other parts of their lives.

“I think we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that for a lot of women, [COVID-19] didn’t mean stepping out of the workforce to become the primary care provider. So we learned a lot from the pandemic about work-life balance, flexibility, and remote work, and allowing people to work from wherever they can to create a more welcoming environment,” said Katie Olson, acting director of the Defense Digital Service. “Diversity is something that has continued to be a challenge within the DOD. So I think increasing representation by women and people of color is something we have an opportunity to do as we move out of this phase of the pandemic.”

This focus on allowing for greater flexibility and remote work appears to have paid dividends in terms of drawing necessary expertise and talent to the DOD from across the country, and allowing them to become better integrated within its project teams.

“Army Futures Command is trying to harness technology experts across the nation in a very large ecosystem. So we had already started hiring people that were dispersed across the country co-located with our trusted partners at universities and sometimes even with businesses. So when we had to go into the posture where everyone was remote, that actually brought some of the teams together better,” said Cynthia Bedell, director of the Computational and Information Sciences Directorate at the Army Research Laboratory.

These transformations have been further streamlined from private-sector partners who have greater experience with accommodating a remote workforce. This has included creating more comprehensive remote training programs that allow skill development even among teleworkers.

“In some of the work that we have done with our partners in the government we’ve seen innovation be pushed down to the lower ranks. We’ve been able to do trainings for bases that may not have been done in the past, but can now be accessed from their home computer. This has allowed them to take the next step towards fixing some of the problems that they see in their day to day work,” said Meg Vorland, chief strategy officer at Dcode.

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