Celebrating Women Special Agents
Part 5: A Diversity of Backgrounds and Experiences
“I was driven by the challenge. It didn’t even occur to me that I was being questioned because I was a female. It just never occurred to me. I imagine I probably surprised a few people.”
- Brenda H, on competing to be on the FBI Hostage Rescue Team in 1993.
In the 40 years since the FBI began training women to be special agents, many have said it was a dream they had held since childhood. They played cops and robbers as kids, kept their noses clean, and maybe joined the military or the local police, consciously burnishing their credentials on the road to becoming G-Women.
“I’m not quite sure where the seed got planted,” said Katrina G., an agent who now runs the Bureau’s Forensic Audio Video and Image Analysis Unit. “But I thought the FBI—fidelity, bravery, integrity—you can’t go wrong. I always wanted to be someone to do the right thing, to be fair and honest, and to stick up for the little guys.”
Others followed a less scripted route. Shelia T., an agent at the FBI’s Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, set out in college to be a research professor and was well on her way when she drove a friend to an FBI recruitment event on campus. “We went in and sat through the session,” she recalled. “My friend is listening because she’s interested and I’m in the back waiting for her to finish so we can go study.” An agent suggested Shelia apply, too. She found herself at the FBI Academy for new-agent training on August 16, 1998. A few years later, she was in Ken Lay’s office at Enron, collecting evidence at the center of the Bureau’s largest-ever white-collar crime scene.
Their stories, revealed in more than a dozen interviews with female agents past and present, show there’s no well-defined template for women agents, apart from a desire to serve. Like the first two women agents—a nun and a Marine—they arrived at the FBI with varied backgrounds and proceeded to have similarly varied careers. In video interviews, they talk about what brought them to the Bureau, the challenges they faced, their unique work experiences, and their reflections on careers that broke more than a few glass ceilings.
A common thread is that none aspired to be great women agents, just great agents that happened to be women.
Here’s a preview:
- A 24-year agent who early in her career competed for a spot on the all-male Hostage Rescue Team: “I was driven by the challenge. It didn’t even occur to me that I was a female and that I was being questioned because I was a female.”
- A retired agent who rose through a series of leadership firsts to the Bureau’s third-highest position: “At the time, when women became the first at anything, somebody always took notice. And often it was the women who took notice because we were trying to find our way and make sure that we had the opportunities that men who were agents had. And we did.”
- Special agent in charge of the Anchorage Division: “I think women coming through today, they benefit from the experiences of all the women that have gone before, and the fact that it’s not considered so unusual now.”
The growing ranks of women agents echo the Anchorage agent’s comments—there are more than 2,600 today, including 11 in charge of field offices. “As a whole, the Bureau is better for having women agents,” she said. “I think we make the Bureau more complete.”