Diversity Panel Preview: Debra Evans-Smith ’81

Posted on 11/24/2020 12:04:35 PM

In the spring, IUP will present a panel discussion, “Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in a Professional Workplace.” Among the speakers will be Debra Evans-Smith ’81, a retired deputy assistant director with the FBI who also served in its Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Here, Evans-Smith answers questions about the importance of this topic in her personal and professional life.

Debra Evans-Smith

More about Debra Evans-Smith

In her 30-year career with the FBI:

  • Joined in 1984 in professional support; became an agent in 1987
  • Worked mainly Counterintelligence and Espionage matters
  • Served in field offices including New Orleans, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and San Diego
  • Served as special assistant to Robert Mueller, former director
  • Retired in 2014 as deputy assistant director of the Counterintelligence Division
  • Returned to work in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion from 2015 to 2019

At IUP:

  • BA in Criminology, 1981
  • Member, President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion
  • Member, IUP Alumni Association Board of Directors

What do diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you?

Diversity is everything that makes us different from one another: from race, color, and sexual orientation to veteran status, marital status, age, and even mental and physical ability. All of those things make us different and, in a lot of ways, make us similar.

Equity is a guarantee of equal treatment, access, and opportunity, including opportunity for advancement. So, when I think of equity, I think of something that was not equal in the past—for example, equal pay for women—and how we’re working toward that equity.

With inclusion, I think about bringing groups who have been traditionally excluded into processes, activities, decision making, and power. Power is very important, because you can be there to diversify, at a meeting or as part of an organization, but if you have no voice and no power, there’s no inclusion.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion ensure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed based on their knowledge, talent, and abilities.

How have diversity, equity, and inclusion had an impact on your life?

I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, and I remember all the things that were going on in this country at that time. We’ve made some significant advancements, but we still have a long way to go. One topic that comes to mind is police brutality. I recall that when I was around 13 years old, a vehicle that my sisters and I were passengers in was suddenly surrounded by four police cars. We were directed to exit the car. We were physically searched, and the interior of the car was torn apart and searched. Without explanation, we were then told that we could leave. That was my first experience with police officers, and it was not a good one.

There were multiple other times that I faced racism as a child and as an adult. I recall my mother, sisters, and me being turned away from a movie theater in Baltimore and being told that children weren’t allowed, just to see a White family with children being admitted as we were walking away. 

I also recall walking to an ice cream shop in Somerset, Pennsylvania, only to have an employee turn the “open” sign to “closed” as we approached. The sign was turned back to “open” as a group of White children approached the shop, and they were served ice cream. 

I could literally go on and on about instances like that. Those who have fought for diversity, equity, and inclusion have made a difference in my life, and I hope some of my efforts have made a difference for others.

What positive examples of diversity initiatives have you seen in your workplace?

I’ll talk about a few that were implemented at the FBI. The first is cross-cultural mentoring and sponsorship, which strongly encourages all  executive-level employees (who are overwhelmingly White and male) to mentor a GS [general schedule] 14 or 15—those are the levels right before you go into an executive level—who differ from them either by race or by gender. In addition to mentoring, if warranted, the executives are also asked to advocate for their mentees.

Another successful program is called Diversity Agent Recruitment—DAR for short. Under this program, FBI offices in cities that have a fulsome minority population sponsor recruitment events aimed specifically at minority applicants. Attendees received information about the application process and about what it takes to become an FBI agent.

A third program is targeted recruitment, wherein FBI offices are encouraged to meet the demographics of their areas of responsibility in terms of recruitment percentages. The goal is to increase the number of minorities who are recruited. This initiative was successful.

Event Details

“Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in a Professional Workplace,” a panel discussion

Wednesday, March 17, 2021, at 1:00 p.m.

Do you have any examples of initiatives that didn’t work?

There was a program requested by a group of retired Black agents who wanted to assist with recruitment. The program did not prove to be successful, because many of the recruiters opted to use on-board employees who could speak to the current FBI experience, as opposed to those who had been away from the FBI. I applaud those retired agents who were willing to give their time to this program.

What can students entering the workforce learn from these kinds of experiences?

If you’re going into a work environment where there’s no diversity or very little diversity, then it’s up to you to try to make that difference, especially if you see disparate treatment—if you see women or minorities or people with disabilities not being hired or promoted for those reasons. Then it’s up to you to speak up. Try to get to know the people you’re working with. Try to get to know the people one level or even two levels above you, and engage them in a conversation about diversity. You can also write a letter. Talk about why diversity is important and the advantages it provides; offer ideas for improvement. The main thing is to have an open and a sincere conversation about it and at least get people to start thinking about it. Then the next step is to take action to implement change.