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DeEtte Gray's FBI National Women’s History Month Speech


Good morning! Thank you for inviting me. A special thanks to Ms. Odom, Associate Deputy Director Perkins and everyone involved in organizing this event celebrating women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. This is a very exciting event and I’m really proud to have been invited to speak to you.

I am the President of BAE Systems’ Intelligence and Security sector. We are the third largest defense and security company in the world. BAE Systems provides a broad range of services including IT, cyber operations and intelligence analysis solutions to support national security missions, but I like to say that we: Manage big data. We inform big decisions. And we support big missions.

We are very proud to work with the FBI. Our IT experts provide the FBI with system and software development support. We work on critical FBI systems, like Sentinel, the FBI’s case management system. We also provide the cross-domain solutions that are used to enhance information sharing between secure database systems.

I joined BAE Systems last June and one of the things I am most proud of about our company is the commitment to cultivating a healthy and vibrant culture – including recognizing the importance of diversity and inclusion in our workforce.

I want to talk about this year's Women's History Month theme, "Inspiring Innovation through Imagination," and what it means to me. But first, let’s talk about making certain we don’t constrain ourselves to biases. In other words, we each probably have in our minds a model of the “right” kinds of experiences people need to have to be successful in business or, perhaps, at the FBI. For work in my sector that means a depth of IT expertise, maybe a military or security background, certainly some business experience. Yet, if we stick only to this traditional model, we might be missing some very promising talent.

Let me give you an example. What would you say if you saw a resume with these kinds of credentials?

  • Education degree – with emphasis in math and science
  • Five years as a middle school teacher in a rural school district
  • The only semblance of IT experience is networking classroom computers
  • And no business experience

Well, I hope you’d take a chance on that person, because that’s my story. And I can tell you that it prepared me exceptionally well for the kind of work I’m in today.

Ok. So come back in time with me for a moment. I grew up in the 70s in rural North Carolina, one of four kids. I wasn’t a typical girl … don’t get me wrong, I loved my Barbie and to dress up … but I also loved math and science. This drove a continuous desire to understand how things worked and to solve problems. I spent many hours engineering my model train track, laying the track and connecting wires to make the trains move. I conducted an experiment on celery to understand how colored water would flow through a plant and I mixed chemicals from my chemistry set to see what happened. Mom always insisted I do these experiments outside. In those days, girls weren't supposed to be good at math and science.

I vividly remember being in high school in 1983 and watching the Shuttle Challenger blast off with Sally Ride aboard. She was the first American woman to go into space. I was amazed at this brave woman – a scientist – who dared to break so many barriers. In this moment, I knew I could stretch beyond what was expected of me in my small town. I could be something different.

I went on to get a degree in math and science at North Carolina State University. I taught for a while – which was great leadership experience – and then got my masters in instructional technology. This involvement with technology led me to do GIS work for a local county, and ultimately to join the defense industry and start my business career.

We all have to stretch if we're going to break barriers, if we're going to inspire imagination and innovation, if we're going to do things that are big, new and maybe even a bit scary. This means we have to continue to create a culture in our work environment, at BAE Systems and at the FBI, which helps people grow and encourages people to seek out both diverse experiences and diverse talent.

Think about it. When I interviewed for my first job in the defense industry, my credentials included 5 years as a school teacher and 3 years as a software developer. Not your classic business background … but fortunately people looked beyond my non-traditional background. If they hadn't, I wouldn't be here with you today!

The celebration of Women's History Month provides a great opportunity to reflect on the pioneers, like Sally Ride, who have broken new ground for all of us. But it's not just breaking big barriers like launching into space … it's about looking every day for opportunities to open doors and inspire people to be all that they dream.

For example, my business is a huge supporter of STEM-related initiatives, like FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a nonprofit organization that inspires young people to be science and technology leaders. During this school year, our employees served as mentors for 17 teams of students, ranging in age groups from 6 to 18. As mentors, our employees are helping students to build their science and mathematics skills, and inspiring innovation.

But it’s not just out the goodness of our hearts that we should support STEM – the fact is our nation’s future depends on our young people pursuing these important career fields. Technology will continue to drive advancement in our economy. And, as everyone in this room knows – even better than I do – technology is essential to our national security. The United States needs to keep the bright minds of our young people interested and engaged in STEM, offering them wonderful and stimulating careers while keeping our nation strong.

As I wrap up, let me leave you with 3 thoughts that I often share with those who ask me – “how did you get to your position?”

  • Get an education – What I mean is to make certain you have a foundation for the position you are seeking. That could mean an advanced degree from a university – or it could mean a specific training or certification. Again, it could be a non-traditional education background for the position – but a person with an education has demonstrated a level of dedication and discipline which says a lot about a person’s character and determination.
  • Diverse Experience – Look for opportunities to gain diverse experience. I think that the better-rounded a person is, the more value they add to an organization because they can look at problem or an opportunity from a variety of perspectives.
  • Confidence – Sometimes this is the toughest one! Let’s be honest with each other, we are often our own worst critic and the negative thoughts we have can undermine our success. There are times where I still walk into a room or a meeting and those self-doubts start to creep in. In those situations I tell myself to “get over it! And get on with it!”

So I'd like to ask everyone to make a commitment to seek out diverse experiences … and be open to recognizing diverse backgrounds and stretching for new opportunities. And, once you “make it” be a mentor to someone working their way up. That could be a female or a male – I believe that there is a responsibility that comes with advancement. I know how grateful I am to those that guided me on my career.

It’s important to look back at where we’ve been – but I encourage you to think about the future. At BAE Systems, I challenge my 6,000-plus employees to share suggestions on innovations to improve our business practices – not just for our customers, but for our employees. I want BAE Systems Intelligence and Security to be known as a trustworthy partner, a thought leader in innovative technology and engineering solutions AND as a “great place to work” for employees. We all need to ask ourselves what we are doing every day to be open and welcoming of new ideas and new approaches. While most of us can’t be pioneers in space like Sally Ride, we can each make a difference in the lives of those we work with.

I thank you for your work to protect and defend this great nation, and appreciate your invitation to participate in this event.