Saturday, November 28, 2015

CSE is run by women

It's 2015, as the new prime minister has pointed out, so no one should be especially surprised to learn that an important government agency happens at the moment to be largely run by women. But it may be worth reflecting on what a major change that development represents.

A lot of women were employed as intercept operators during the Second World War, and there were also a significant number working as codebreakers and translators, as well as support staff, for SIGINT processing during the war.

But like the Rosie the Riveters in the munitions factories, most of the women working in SIGINT were pushed to leave the workforce at the end of the war.

A few women managed to remain in positions of responsibility within CBNRC, the new post-war SIGINT agency, but the top jobs were available only to men. The post-war intercept jobs were also reserved for men. Women continued to be hired for secretarial and clerical roles, or to work in that now quaint-sounding institution the typing pool, and there were also some in the analyst jobs, but all faced systematic discrimination in terms of pay and promotion. It wasn't until 1977 that CSE, as it had by then become, appointed an Equal Opportunities for Women staff officer.

Such were the times—and not just within CSE, of course.

What a difference a few decades has made.

Old ideas about the roles of men and women are far from entirely gone, but the amount of change that has taken place is striking.

Most notably, CSE now has its first woman Chief, Greta Bossenmaier, who was appointed to the job earlier this year.

The Deputy Chiefs who run the agency's two main business lines, SIGINT and IT Security, are also women, Shelly Bruce and Toni Moffa, respectively, both of whom worked their way up through long careers in the agency.

There are three other Deputy Chief jobs on the CSE organization chart, all of which are currently held by men, but those positions—Policy and Communications, Corporate Services, and Chief Information Officer—provide support services: they are certainly important, but the sharp end of the agency, and the majority of its staff, is under the direction of women.

The identities of the people at the next highest levels of responsibility, the Directors-General and Directors, are generally not released, but it is clear that a significant number of those jobs are also held by women, including, for example, the agency's General Counsel and Director of Legal Services (Josée Desjardins) and its Director General of Audit, Evaluation and Ethics (Sue Greaves).

[Update 3 December 2015: In fact, as Shelly Bruce stated in a 26 May 2010 speech, “most of our analysts, many of our managers, and the majority of CSE’s senior executives” are women. See Jim Bronskill, "Nerd farm no more: Speech offers rare glimpse into eavesdropping agency," Canadian Press, 23 June 2013.]

CSE's Senior Liaison Officer to NSA, the CANSLO/W, is also a woman (Michele Mullen), as was her predecessor (Eryn Sproule). The agency's first liaison officer to Australia and New Zealand, appointed in 2009, was also a women (Gwen Beauchemin).

Interestingly, the last NSA liaison officer in Ottawa was also a woman (Cynthia Daniels), as were several of her immediate predecessors. (I haven't identified the current incumbent.)

Let me emphasize here that I (a) see this as a very positive development, but (b) do not expect it to lead to any significant change in the way the agency operates, other than contributing to the further decline of discriminatory attitudes and thus helping the agency make best use of the talents of all of its employees, whether male or female.

But that itself is no small matter.

Welcome to 2015.

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