The foreign policy landscape may be bleak–confrontation with Iran, frayed relations with allies, the spread of authoritarianism, climate change, nuclear proliferation—but the good news is that more women are working on these issues than ever before.
There are a record number of women running for president. Women now make up almost a quarter of both chambers of Congress, the highest percentage in U.S. history. Thanks to the #MeToo movement, male supervisors and colleagues are more attune to incidents of sexual assault, harassment and abuse in the national security workplace and many have taken concrete steps to prevent such incidents. Women have to tolerate fewer demeaning comments. Women are supporting one another, leading and speaking out.
At the same time, we are nowhere near parity. Women do not reach senior ranks at nearly the same rate as men do in any national security institution, be it the Defense Department, the National Security Council, the media or in policy research. Many think tanks still feature all male panels despite the plethora of available women experts. With notable exceptions, women, especially women of color, are absent from many of the national security conversations on the Sunday morning talk shows. Despite some progress, women continue to battle pay gaps, inflexible workplaces, unconscious bias and outright sexism.
In an effort to support and promote women in national security at all levels, we, along with many friends, colleagues and luminaries in our field, have launched the Leadership Council for Women in National Security (LCWINS). Our goal is to strengthen U.S. foreign policy by promoting women, including women of color, into the top ranks of our field.
Studies from the private sector show that more women in management is clearly correlated with higher profitability. Diverse teams have been shown to avoid dangerous “groupthink.” Studies of women in Congress show that they tend to be viewed as or more effective than their male counterparts and more willing to reach across the political aisle. When women are involved in peace negotiations, the odds of success go up.
This research indicates that diverse teams in national security will yield better decisions. As one of our first projects, LCWINS has asked all of the candidates running for president, from both parties, to sign a pledge that they will seek gender parity in their national security appointments. To do so, we suggest that they assemble diverse groups of job candidates to choose from, that they do not penalize for taking time off for child or elder care, and that hiring recommendations are evaluated, in part, based on whether they will contribute to the creation of diverse leadership teams. LCWINS will offer to work with whoever wins the Democratic primary on identifying a large group of female candidates for every senior position in national security. We will offer the same assistance to the Trump campaign.
We are pleased to announce that 15 candidates have signed the pledge. We welcome others to do so as well.
We’re just getting started. In the coming months, we will be launching a series of additional initiatives to support women in national security from informal networking events to briefings for female members of Congress. We’d also like to work with partners to increase support for research on women in national security. We’ve discovered that despite all the media attention around the women’s movement, and the gaps yet to be closed, there are few funding sources devoted to promoting women in national security. None of the major foundations are funding research or programs in this area. That is what needs to change first for us to continue to do right by American foreign policy and American women.
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