Three female former CIA officials spoke with The Jerusalem Post regarding their experiences at the agency to mark International Women’s Day.While the current CIA director, Gina Haspel, is a woman, and many believe women have made progress in the field of intelligence, the playing field between men and women still is not equal. Cindy Otis worked for the CIA as an analyst and a White House briefer from 2007-2017, covering both Europe and portions of the Middle East.She said with much of her analysis covering military issues, she was in a male-dominated department.Otis, who uses a wheelchair, told the Post one regular challenge for her as a woman was often “showing up to be the briefer of military generals to talk about war operations which were going on, and they were not expecting a woman in a wheel chair.”Another challenge was when sometimes “my female colleagues or myself were pressured to feel like we couldn’t raise outside family obligations with management. A teammate might have children at home, after-care issues and or be a single mother.“They would feel like they couldn’t raise their needs with managers because they would be automatically ruled out from interesting opportunities. Managers would assume they couldn’t do them because of outside obligations,” Otis said.In addition, she referenced “entrenched cultural issues and clashes.”Otis said when she was promoted to a management level position, “someone below me… a man… came to me to get advice about personal issues he was having with a woman… He said the issue is that she just had very strong female emotions.“Because he was talking to a woman and a female manager, it didn’t make sense to me that he thought that was appropriate – what does that mean exactly? It was a tough conversation. I felt like I couldn’t react with emotion in my voice… that would confirm what he said about strong female emotions… He was discounting how a person reacted to his behavior by talking about strong female emotions.”Otis said the incident was “very symbolic” about “how women in the work environment are perceived as overreacting emotionally” by some men if they have a substantive disagreement and do not give in to the man.To overcome some of the perceptions about her as a woman or a disabled person, Otis said she was raised to believe “I was going to have to work 10 times harder,” and that she made sure to know her material by heart when she gave briefings so that she was barely using whatever note cards she might have brought.She also said she was very conscious about her dress and posture, never hesitated and went straight to a seat befitting her authority as soon as she entered a room.Gail Helt was a CIA analyst focusing on East Asia, especially China, from 2003-2014.She told the Post one challenge as a woman in the CIA was that, “for some male supervisors, there are stereotypes… I had to deal with the fact that with a particular team I was on there were men with military backgrounds who 'frequently were given the sexy briefing downtown,' instead of me.“This was even if I did all of the research for the paper they were briefing on… I finally asked ‘Why can’t I do it – do you not trust my briefing skills?'” she recountedThe supervisor responded, “We’re just not sure about the image you’ll present when you go downtown.”“This took me aback,” Helt said. “I am fairly friendly and good-natured. I can be light and tend to chat people up. Apparently, if you’re a woman, if you do that,” male managers can perceive that as discrediting how seriously you will be taken.But “if you’re a guy, you can get away with off color jokes and inappropriate chatter. They weren’t afraid that one of these guys would say something inappropriate. And he really did say inappropriate things. He had even been told not to say inappropriate things anymore. It was crazy. How do you deal with it? You don’t deal with it. There are no concrete steps. You just have to absorb it and move on.”Eventually, that supervisor was replaced by a different supervisor who gave Helt many more chances to deliver briefings, and she said that most of her CIA experiences were more balanced.Besides Otis and Helt overcoming adversity to succeed in the CIA, there are also examples where former CIA women said their gender gave them some distinct advantages.Helt said: “In some cultures, being female can be an advantage and a bit disarming… Patriarchal cultures don’t expect women to know anything about their [foreign] culture, politics or history… I found men overseas were more willing to talk to me, to talk to a woman who took the opportunity to learn about them – it was really disarming.“I would come back with information which would really inform a whole new research cycle as an analyst. Some of the males who I worked with didn’t seem to come back with that kind of information,” she said.Likewise, Tracy Walder, who served in CIA operations and interrogations and the government from 2000-2005, told the Post: “Working with assets [human spies] and foreign intelligence services – a lot of them just assumed I was an assistant or a secretary.“Sometimes they would tell me more because they underestimated me… I was able to work that to my advantage. They almost developed loose lips. They almost assumed I did not even understand what they were telling me about,” she said.Another instance where Walder said her womanhood was an advantage in the CIA was when interrogating terrorists.“The general narrative is that terrorists wouldn’t want to talk to women. But some are very intrigued. They don’t have lots of experience with the opposite sex. Women have certain traits, being able to read people and empathize, and find out what their likes and dislikes are,” she said.Walder said: “It’s almost like recruiting an asset. I just have a different way of being able to connect with people." In interrogations “to get information to affect national security, I could get it a bit more quickly and effectively by just getting a quicker read on them… Woman can be better listeners.”Sometimes, she said, she might “ask a simple question. Like discovering that where someone lived, he had never tasted fresh fruit,” leading her to make a deal with one terrorist that “if he gave me information I wanted, I’d bring him a fruit. I brought him an orange every day that he continued to give me information.”In their own way, each of these three women made some new holes in the “glass ceiling” in the world of intelligence.