WHEN WOMEN in the military were cracking glass ceilings decades ago, one local daughter was also contending with carving out her own non-traditional career in another government agency.

Carmel-by-the-Sea Mayor Sue McCloud, who retired in 1994 from the Central Intelligence Agency as a Senior Executive Service member, shared some of her experiences and thoughts during the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center and Presidio of Monterey\'s Women's Equality Day Observance here Aug. 26.

McCloud pointed out that it has been nearly 90 years since the U.S. Constitution guaranteed women the right to vote and people should now ask themselves the question "How far have we come during that time'"

In keeping with the theme for the 2009 Women's Equality Day, The Right to Vote, McCloud said that women still have a long way to go, especially in actually taking advantage of what the 19th Amendment provides: The right to cast a ballot.

Community members gathered at the Presidio's Tin Barn for a celebration, which, McCloud reminded the audience, implies festivities and rejoicing. "And there is reason to do some of that," she said. "But there is also still much to be done in finishing up the work the suffragettes started with their struggle to gain the right to vote for women."

"Our respect for their efforts is measured in the percentage of women who exercise their right to vote." So, she said, when women are casting their votes, they are endorsing the efforts that were made in 1920 and before by both men and women.

That endorsement does not stop when a woman drops a ballot in a box or presses the enter key on a screen.

"We are blessed with a very diverse population in our country in general, and in California in particular. But because of this diversity, often women come from a culture where their views are not valued or even sought," she said. "This is where we can all help women to register to vote and to understand the election issues. For despite their U.S. citizenship, women from other cultures sometimes find the ways of a free country hard to comprehend."

McCloud, like many pioneers, did encounter the proverbial glass ceiling, which in her previous life in intelligence operations was actually a stainless-steel ceiling, she said.

"However you define these ceilings, they will only diminish and disappear as more women move through these barriers and express their opinions," she said.

But, according to what McCloud called her first tough-love point, those women who made it through the ceiling "must reach down and lend a hand to those women coming behind you. There is no reason for each of them to have to recreate the wheel if you are willing to share lessons learned, both good and bad," she said.

McCloud still remembers the lack of that helping hand from when she was about six years into her career and considering entering into politics. On at least three different occasions, McCloud said, she contacted a woman who at the time was active in California politics.

McCloud said she wanted to discuss with the woman the realities of going into politics. Unfortunately McCloud never heard a response from the woman's office.

McCloud, who obviously did not let that lack of response stop her from entering the political ring, has shown through her own actions how strongly she feels about helping those who follow - men and women.

About 25 years ago, she said, there were perhaps 24 women of high rank out of the nearly 25,000 employees of the CIA. McCloud said she and other women in those senior leadership positions decided to set up an agency-wide mentoring program that included brown-bag lunches where people could discuss things like balancing career and family and not being risk adverse in accepting assignments.

As they advertised the periodic lunches, "we were absolutely surprised" to see many men joined in the lunches and asked to take advantage of the mentoring program.

When asked, the men explained they felt less threatened by discussing these kinds of issues with women than with their male peers or supervisors. She said they felt that by expressing their concerns about career and family or whatever the issue might be was an expression of weakness and would adversely impact their careers as judged by their male counterparts.

Two and a half decades later McCloud discussed a recent San Jose Mercury article that said corporations that have had women in senior administrative positions have fared better as far as being a viable corporation than those with men solely at the top because there was a different atmosphere.

McCloud asked the audience to think about that information, although, she pointed out, she was not suggesting it would work in the military or a quasi-military organization like the CIA.

McCloud's final tough-love point applies equally to men as well as women: During their careers, people peak at different points or ranks, in the case of the military.

She said that if people reach the pinnacle of success, perhaps then it's time to move laterally or just shift to another career or track where they might be better matched for that point in their lives.

She said people need to acknowledge their shortcomings and to admit they might not be advancing because of their own foibles.

"Don't forget," McCloud said, "equality means the equal right to succeed and the equal right to fail."