News | Feb. 26, 2021

Representation, Identity, and Diversity: “Diverse groups allow for a broader set of ideas and capabilities to be expressed and explored.”

By Office of Public Affairs

During Black History Month, NRO’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) virtually sat down with Mr. Fred Davenport, deputy director of the NRO Operations Center, to follow up on his “We Are the NRO” video and hear his thoughts on this year’s Black History Month theme.  

OPA: Mr. Davenport, thank you so much for setting aside the time to virtually catch up!

Fred: Absolutely. I look forward to the day when we can all meet again in person.

OPA: We wanted to revisit some of the themes from your “We Are the NRO” video that we filmed back in 2019, and get your thoughts on this year’s Black History Month theme. This year's theme is "The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity." Who in your family most influenced you? As a senior black leader, how do you think representation, identity, and diversity influence our work at NRO?

Fred: I am fortunate to come from a super strong family. My parents, grandparents and uncles and aunts are extremely close and supportive. My mother and father had the strongest influence on my life. They taught me what it means to be a good friend, partner, leader, and spouse. They instilled strong work ethic (“Work before you play!”) and a strong sense of identity in me and my two siblings. They taught us to study hard and stand up for ourselves. I was taught to believe I was just as important as the next person, but at the same time, I was no more important than anyone else. This principle in particular enabled me to see myself doing or becoming anything I set my mind to.

As far as the makeup of the NRO family, I gave a talk during a Lessons in Leadership session at NRO last year where I spoke about how we first size each other up based on appearance, we pre-judge, so what we look like is important. I’ve heard Director Scolese mention a conversation with the late great Representative John Lewis, where Rep. Lewis asked him: when was the NRO going to look more like America? Clearly we weren’t looking diverse enough to Representative Lewis, and perception is the viewer’s reality. I believe a diverse leadership team is important to recruitment and retention for our organization — two factors that are key to our long term success. Diverse groups allow for a broader set of ideas and capabilities to be expressed and explored.

OPA: When asked "what do you want to be when you grow up" many children say that they want to go to space and be an astronaut. What do you enjoy about a space-related career, and do you have any advice for young people looking to the stars? Do you have any advice for someone who may be unsure if they can make their way in a technical career?

Fred: I L-O-V-E this mission! I was not one of those kids who aspired to work in the space industry. However, being one who’s willing to try and learn new things, an opportunity to try something different led to me gaining the experience that later landed me here. Learning new things is what I love about working space. For those young people who are intentionally looking to the stars, I say no better time than now! The space industry is rapidly growing. New ideas and concepts are being explored every day. No one knows where the next great idea will come from, so jump in and be bold! If someone is unsure of themselves, I say don’t be afraid to fail. All of the great minds and successful people of our time share that characteristic. They are all willing to try new ideas no matter how far out they may seem, and ideas that don’t succeed, they simply learn from.

OPA: Circling back to your “We Are the NRO” video, you mentioned the importance of your team working together. Today you’ve highlighted the importance of a diverse team and how having diversity at all levels of decision making is key to success in national security decisions. Can you think of a time when a diversity of experience, training, upbringing, or background made the difference in how your team came to a final decision?

Fred: I led the NRO’s intelligence support division, which has a diverse group of analysts. Age, gender, military, civilian, and race are all descriptors that contribute to this group’s diversity. The age range meant different experiences and knowledge levels. That’s not to say that the more experienced folks always knew best. Instead, having historical knowledge from the old guard and knowledge of current day capabilities in the younger members allowed that team to be on the cutting edge of counterspace intelligence. While we didn’t produce intelligence reports, this very small team drove (and continues to drive) counterspace intelligence reporting across the intelligence community (IC). Space and air experience, combined with military and civilian experience, created an atmosphere for a more complete picture of the space environment. They were out of the box thinkers and great question askers, a benefit to NRO and the IC.

OPA: Mr. Davenport, it was such a pleasure speaking with you! Thank you again for your time today.

Fred: Thank you! Really appreciate you doing this.