How the CIA Is Trying to Recruit Women

July 27th 2016

Lucy Tiven

If you've ever wondered about the CIA's hiring practices, you're not alone. The idea brings up a host of questions: Where do I apply? How hard is it to become a spy? In an agency that seems dominated by men, are there any female spies?

Turns out the CIA would love more females on board, and they have a special way to recruit them. Runa Sandvik, a user of the non-profit news site MuckRock dedicated to sharing and analyzing government documents, filed a Freedom of Information Act request a year ago for the agency's recruitment materials — geared specifically at women. The results recently came in and were shared on MuckRock and Atlas Obscura.

As it turns out, the CIA has more than a few thoughts on how to "target women," as they put it.

Here are 7 things you need to know about how the CIA views women and hopes to recruit female spies.

1. Women are chasing the ever elusive "work-life" balance — which might dissuade them from joining the CIA.

work life balance

Working mothers, in particular, might worry that a job at the CIA would leave them with less time to devote to their families, the brief explains.

70 percent of working Americans struggle to balance their jobs and lives outside of work, Discovery News reported in 2015. And the consequences of working too much may be even tougher for women: Recent research from Ohio State University and Mayo Clinic found that working 60 or more hours a week tripled a woman's risk of diabetes, cancer, heart trouble, and arthritis. Plus, in general, women are in charge of housework and childcare on top of a job, making "balance" even harder to attain.

2. But women may also be weary of ads that oversell promises that they can 'have it all.'


They also aren't swayed by messages that an organization values diversity, according to the CIA, and they tend to think they are being lied to.

On the bright side, this could attract them to a positions that value them as privileged insiders, as indicated by this poster.

the truth

3. Women might not know what the CIA is really like.

tv movies

The brief explains that women are mostly exposed to the CIA in TV shows, films, and books.

For this reason, they might get their prospective new gigs confused with those on "Scandal," "Alias," "Homeland," or "The Americans." This also allegedly leads them to believe the CIA is stocked with brainy (but "reserved") white dudes.

4. Ladies are repelled by images of models and other glamorous, standoffish women who they can't relate to.

irregular women

Perhaps observing recent advertising trends that forefront body positivity rather than stereotypical models physiques, the CIA suggests that women aren't drawn to images of agents who appear too "posed or superficial."

5. Women are plugged in!

Women find jobs on the Internet, though they also turn to friends and colleagues and networking events, the brief explains.



6. Women trust other women.

The recruiting brief explains that women turn to gender-specific networking meetings and other events — as well as media geared towards a female audience — to find jobs. It also says that they are more likely to trust other women as recruiters than men.


7. Women might have a unique reason for not wanting to work for the CIA.

Embedded in an otherwise somewhat banal list of potential reasons women might not choose to work for the CIA is arguably one of the most interesting ways the brief differentiates prospective female recruits from their male counterparts — the "inability to decline an assignment they do not support."


This may be the only claim in the brief that addresses female psychology on a deep, moral level — beyond how women plan and live their day-to-day lives or react to how they are depicted in advertisements.

Numerous studies suggest that men have lower moral standards than women in cut-throat or competitive contexts, Scientific American reported in a 2012 piece. "When men must use strategy or cunning to prove or defend their masculinity, they are willing to compromise moral standards to assert dominance," the report concludes.

Researchers tend to think this isn't a result of genetics, Scientific American explains, but rather due to the way men are raised and socialized and how masculinity is prized and equated with success in contemporary culture.

The article author Cindy May writes:

...Men - at least in American culture - seem motivated to protect and defend their masculinity. These scientists suggest that losing a "battle," particularly in contexts that are highly competitive and historically male oriented, presents a threat to masculine competency. Apparently manhood is relatively fragile and precarious, and when it is challenged, men tend to become more aggressive and defensive. So a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. To ensure victory, men will sacrifice moral standards if doing so means winning.

A 1995 study (PDF) published in Business Horizons asked how men and women in management positions in the workforce differed in moral reasoning and ethical decision making. Author Leslie Dawson outlined the differences in the chart below:

dawson chart

Dawson concluded that women's traits could improve a business's ethical climate by valuing sensitivity and interpersonal trust, but they could also be viewed as less decisive or objective. She recommended that both male and female managers be included in major company decisions.

You can read the full brief and see the images on MuckRock.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]