Six women discuss the gender imbalance in U.S. foreign policy and national security work.
Obama meets with the national security team on Iraq in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington / Reuters
Having worked at a number of institutions over the past fifteen years, I have long been struck by the proportional underrepresentation of women in U.S. foreign policy and national security positions. In an attempt to understand the scope and extent of this gender gap, I wrote a piece that examined the best available data for the government, military, academy, and think tanks. With few exceptions, I found that women make up less than 30 percent of senior positions across these institutions.
Since then, I have received an outpouring of feedback and have been fortunate to speak with a number of people on this issue, which nearly everyone recognizes as a persistent problem but is reluctant to address directly.
The Obama administration has strongly embraced and promoted women's rights and issues in other countries as part of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. In a speech in December 2011, Secretary Clinton argued for the inclusion and mobilization of women abroad as critical to U.S. national interests, because "they raise issues like human rights, citizen security, justice, employment, health care" and "speak on behalf of other marginalized groups and across cultural and sectarian divides." It is reasonable to assume that, for these very same reasons, increased participation of women at home would only strengthen the foreign policy community and enhance the U.S. role in global affairs.