'We're taking great strides': July marks 50 years of women serving as FBI special agents

July is the 50th anniversary of women serving as special agents with the FBI. Female agents are still under-represented, but they are leading and shaping the organization.

For most of her FBI career, Special Agent Melissa Fair worked international terrorism. Now, she is the Applicant Coordinator and Recruiter at the Tampa Field Office.

Fair said she was inspired to join the FBI when she was in middle school.

"When I was finally old enough to watch Silence of the Lambs, it was like, that was it for me," Fair said. "I'm like, okay, I know exactly what I want to do when I grow up. And that's it."

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It took a career as a flight attendant, and then joining the U.S. Army before she even applied.

"When I deployed in Iraq, I was there a year. I worked very closely with a lot of special agents of the FBI and that really reinvigorated my fire and thinking like, you know, maybe this is something I can attain," said Fair.

She graduated from Quantico in 2008 and is now one of about 3,000 female special agents. The FBI has 56 field offices across the country, and here at the Tampa location, about 25% of the 205 agents are female. Still, women who wear the badge are under-represented.

"Ultimately the goal of the FBI is to get at least 40% for female agents. We're taking great strides in doing that. And hopefully, within the coming years, we'll get there," Fair said.

The FBI was established in 1908, but women have only been serving as special agents for the last 50 years. The stroke of a pen in 1972 opened a new chapter in FBI history. Those first female graduates forged a path, and the thousands who followed are superb agents, who just happen to be women.

"It was an opportunity of a lifetime has been an honor to be part of this organization. And here I am still 18 years later," said Special Agent Susana Mapu.

Mapu said she served in the Navy and was 34 years old when she started her career with the FBI.

"Back in 2004, I was a stay-at-home mom with two toddlers, and I found myself needing a job," Mapu said.

She is now the dedicated sole agent at the Tampa Field Office assigned to investigate civil rights matters.

Mapu said it is meaningful and rewarding work that she is able to balance while raising a family.

"I want to encourage women, if they are interested in law enforcement, to apply, because it has been a wonderful career, family-friendly and able to serve your country at the same time," she said.

Both women are part of a living legacy they hope continues to grow.