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Cheri Oz
March 22, 2021

Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be silenced

Women’s History Month 2021

In honor of Women’s History Month 2021, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) highlighted the importance of the strong and courageous women who work for the agency, celebrating their contributions, accomplishments and commitment to equality in law enforcement. This year, on March 10, the DEA hosted an agency-wide, online presentation based on the 2020-2021 Women’s History Month Day theme, “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be silenced.”  The presentation aimed to honor those who stood up and fought to advance rights for women and those who continue to stand up, speak out, and lift others up.

The presentation was hosted by the DEA’s Equal Employment Opportunity office.  Staff from across the world were welcomed by Acting Administration Christopher Evans in opening remarks. AA Evans touted the strength of our diverse workforce and the agency’s commitment to supporting women in law enforcement. Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the DEA Phoenix Field Division, Cheri Oz, headlined the event, along with Special Agent Shahnaz Varghese, Group Supervisor assigned to the Bogota [Colombia] office.

In their own words, both women told the story of how they chose a career in law enforcement, their personal struggles, what kept them motivated, who inspired them, and tips on how every woman, and man in the agency can stand up, speak out, and lift others up as a way to achieve success.

“This is an examination of our journey to success – your journey to success,” said SAC Cheri Oz as she opened. “I am going to give you the key to you unlocking your potential and your power right up front. Do the work.  Do the work and buckle up, it might be a bumpy ride...”

During this year’s presentation, SAC Oz spoke of her experiences and journey to the leadership role she holds today. She provided the listening audience with lessons she learned along the way.

For as long as she could remember, she wanted to be a DEA agent. But through her journey, she spoke of encountering unfair treatment, sexism, abuse, rumors, and differing standards. Not to be deterred, SAC Oz spoke of how setbacks and troubles are part of the journey. She provided practical advice on how to stand up against these odds – by taking a long-term view, building a strong network, navigating the culture of an organization, and learning to get to “yes.” Her stories and experience engaged the audience and her slideshow of women leaders around the agency inspired the audience.

“We are so lucky to work for a law enforcement agency led by people who know the value and worth of all of their employees,” SAC Oz said in closing. “We want the best candidate for any job and if the best guy for the job happens to be a woman, they are going to pick her.  The seats at the table aren’t labeled by gender any longer.  Do the work. Come get your chair!”   

“We are ALL stronger together,” said Oz.  “Remember power is not a position.  Power is not a title.  Power comes from empowerment.  You only have power if you empower yourself and the people around you.”

In recent decades, women have held every senior leadership position in the Drug Enforcement Administration, including as the agency’s Administrators, Deputy Administrators, Special Agents in Charge, and other Senior Executive Service positions. Women serve an essential role in and contribute to every aspect of the DEA’s mission.

Women's History Month is an opportunity to highlight the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. It is celebrated during March, corresponding with International Women's Day on March 8. The National Women’s History Alliance extended the theme, “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced,” originally the 2020 Women’s History Month theme, as the 2021 celebration – a theme that captures the spirit of the women who work within and alongside those at the DEA.

For the DEA, the annual commemoration of Women’s History Month is part of the agency’s ongoing commitment to diversity. Each employee brings different histories, experiences, and perspectives to the table. These differences reflect where each individual comes from, the current world we live in, and the great places we are going as a nation.

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