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Before Equal Opportunity: Women at DIA 1961-1978

By DIA History Office

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March 31, 2014 — As DIA wraps up its observance of Women’s History Month, we look at the early years of women in the agency.

When DIA was established in 1961, women comprised 34 percent of the federal workforce and held only 1 percent of government jobs above the GS-12 level.

Only a handful of female supervisors worked at DIA during the early 1960s. The revolution in women’s lives and careers precipitated by the Women’s Movement later in the decade had not yet occurred. Most women worked for only a few years before leaving the workforce to get married. Entry level jobs at DIA for civilian women included key punch operator, electrical accounting machine operator, automatic data processing file clerk, telephone directory compiler and typist. 

The Women’s Movement began to change women’s expectations during the late 1960s. Fewer women opted to stay home after marriage and more women aspired to professional careers. Women who took jobs at DIA began staying on at the agency after getting married and starting their families.

Very few military women were assigned to DIA during the 1960s and 70s for the simple reason that women comprised less than 2 percent of the armed services prior to the establishment of the All Volunteer Force in 1973. Two exceptions were MAJ Jane Brister of the Women’s Army Corps and Lt Col Yvonne Pateman. Brister, who spoke both Russian and German, worked with documents smuggled out of East Germany during the early 1960s. Pateman, who served at Ton Son Nhut Airbase, Vietnam, from 1969-1970 as chief of the warning center, became DIA’s chief of the China Air and Missile Section during the early 1970s. 

In 1969 President Richard Nixon issued an executive order that required federal agencies to establish affirmative employment programs to foster equal opportunity for minorities and women. By this time, DIA was hiring female college graduates as entry level analysts.

During the late 1960s DIA also developed a program to help transition college graduates with language skills from the administrative to the analytical career track. Graduates hired as bilingual research technicians, or BLRTs, worked overseas at U.S. embassies for two or three years helping personnel in the defense attaché offices who could not speak the language of the host nation particularly well write formal letters and perform detailed research. After two or three years, BLRTS returned to DIA and were assigned entry-level analyst positions. Many women in this program would go on to move up the leadership ranks within DIA, including the agency’s first female chief of staff. 

In 1974 then DIA Director LTG Daniel Graham hired Dr. Wynfred Joshua to be the first defense intelligence officer for European and Soviet military and political affairs. Joshua, hired on strength of her scholarly reputation and publications on the Soviet Union’s nuclear strategy and abilities, was the highest graded woman at DIA during the 1970s.

The EEOC was granted advisory authority for affirmative employment functions in 1978, including the responsibility to review and approve annual equal opportunity plans submitted by each agency. Meanwhile, women hired at DIA during the 1960s and 70s began moving into leadership positions in the agency and helped to pave the way for the future.

Today talented and dedicated women hold all types of positions at DIA, from senior executive to police officer to scientist or analyst, just to name a few. Click the video above to watch our employees share their views on the importance of women at DIA and what Women's History Month means to them.