Ending Gender Shunning

Something is seriously wrong with U.S. national security. In this case, I am not talking about the policy itself but about how we develop and discuss policy. Despite the advances that women in national security have made in recent decades, men continue to dominate the national security field. That means that America’s foreign and defense policies are not benefitting from a diverse set of perspectives and views. It also means, as some studies have shown, that the male-dominated environments in which national security policies are developed are prone to groupthink and in some cases, blatant sexism and sexual harassment.

Read the full report here.

Maternity and Paternity Leave: Implications for the National Security Workforce

One month into parenting our newborn, my wife and I, both national security officials, had an epiphany: No doubt some of the worst foreign policy decisions made by the United States must have been the result of key staff’s sleep deprivation brought on by watching over their newly arrived infants at the same time they were advising the president and his cabinet. Though we were first-time parents, we were not strangers to the anxieties of working on stressful and complex dilemmas, having spent years in the national security field. We had each spent time working through headquarters and bureaucracies on time-sensitive issues, and both of us had deployed to unforgiving and dangerous environments where we worked for weeks and months on little sleep. We understood how this sort of stress had impacted our decisionmaking abilities and, after a few years of marriage, knew how grumpy we could be with each other on little sleep. Still, none of this fully prepared us for the exhaustion of taking care of a baby.

Working in the national security environment is an honorable and rewarding profession, but also demanding and stressful – even more so for those raising families. We have worked for managers who placed duty to the job over duty to the family, but we have also had managers who stressed a work-life balance. Even with enlightened managers, however, the “system” tends to discount employees who seek a work-life balance, particularly women. This is not unique to the public sector and is perhaps a function of high-pressure jobs. Making matters worse is that many of us in the national security arena are self-selecting, type-A, or ENTJ personalities and place an inordinate amount of pressure on ourselves to do it all, without worrying about overextending ourselves or the longer-term consequences to our health and happiness. Working at the Departments of State or Defense, at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), or in the intelligence community is a calling, not just a job, and sitting on the sidelines or taking yourself out of the game to pursue another path can prove extraordinarily frustrating or even feel humiliating. There is no getting around the reality that national security professions may require frequent or long tours overseas away from family. Even while stateside, the ability to create a better work-life balance is limited due to security requirements that make it extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to work from home. Good managers can only do so much to overcome a bad system. In the end, my wife and I had a very limited amount of leave, and our desire to ensure the well-being of our child was a priority, but couldn’t change this reality.

While these challenges and dynamics are, in part, the result of a bureaucratic system that is cumbersome, inconsistent, and haphazard, department secretaries and senior leaders have a considerable amount of authority over their personnel and how they are managed. Not only can good leaders make bad systems more palatable, but they can set the example in terms of work-life balance (even in the national security arena) and set expectations for managers in terms of the importance of taking care of people. Finally, these senior officials have some ability to change policies to advance work-life balance, including making it easier to take family leave. While there are some legal and policy changes that require congressional intervention, on the whole, the executive branch has not pushed existing authorities to their limits.

Read the full report here.

The Power of Example

When I chose a career in foreign policy and national security, I never considered the fact that I was entering a historically male-dominated profession. In a purely abstract way I was keenly aware of the continued gender imbalance among decisionmakers who influence national security, but I never thought about my own gendered role in that field, or that anyone might see me as a woman in national security. I was simply a young, driven woman who entered the State Department in the good company of many other young, driven women.

But I soon noticed a common response when I first met my male foreign counterparts, usually along the lines of: “You’re a woman, and you look so young – you must be very smart.”

Comments like these reflected that my male interlocutors were still not accustomed to encountering women in professional settings, especially ones dealing with foreign policy and national security. And of course, they thought they were paying me a compliment.

But such comments reflect several problematic undercurrents: 1) that it was remarkable for a woman to be holding the positions I occupied; 2) that it was remarkable for a woman in such positions to appear young and – might I say – stylish, neither wearing baggy suits nor having her hair in a matronly bun; and 3) that only by being unusually smart could a woman, who looks young, come to occupy such a position (or the more nefarious interpretation that some of my colleagues faced – that they must have been sleeping with someone to obtain their position).

Unfortunately, such remarks were a hallmark of my initial encounters with foreign counterparts during my 11 years of service at the State Department and National Security Council. I had some incredible opportunities – from participating in the Six-Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, to being part of a small team negotiating a presidential joint statement for a state visit with China, to planning and joining summits between President Barack Obama and his South Korean and Chinese counterparts. With the championship of some great bosses and mentors, I moved relatively quickly up the ranks.

Read the full report here.

Gender Equality as a National Security Priority

The Obama administration made efforts to advance gender equality around the world one of its core national security and foreign policy priorities, based on the premise that countries are more stable, secure, and prosperous when women enjoy the same rights as men, participate fully in their countries’ political systems and economies, and live free from violence. A growing body of research makes a compelling case about these links. Former Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell and former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon sum up much of the evidence in this Medium piece, noting that advancing gender equality around the world helps grow global gross domestic product, decreases hunger, strengthens the prospects for peace agreements to succeed, and counters violent extremism.

Despite this evidence, in a survey earlier this year of 500 foreign policy leaders working in and out of the government shows a mere 13 percent believe gender inequality internationally is a vital threat to U.S. interests. Less than one-third of respondents thought women’s and girls’ full participation is an important foreign policy goal. This data demonstrates we still have a long way to go in changing the way foreign policymakers think about gender and truly integrating such considerations into policy debates on the most pressing national security challenges.

I had a front row seat for many such deliberations, having worked as an intelligence analyst covering the Middle East during the Arab Spring, as the Director for Egypt at the National Security Council (NSC) during 2012–2014, and as a senior advisor in the Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues during the final 18 months of the Obama administration. Based on this somewhat unique combination of experience working on both “hard” security issues and in the office charged with integrating gender considerations into U.S. foreign policy, I offer the following assessment of what the Obama administration got right when it came to integrating gender into U.S. foreign policymaking, and where it fell short.

Read the full report at

Send the Breast Pump With the Defense Attaché

I held the syringe up to the light above the bathroom mirror and flicked it a few times with my finger to make sure I had the exact dose of Lupron. I checked my watch to calculate the time in Washington. I pulled the waistline of my pants below my belly button, steadied my feet, wiped my abdomen with an alcohol swab and took a deep breath.

As I pulled my arm back to thrust the syringe into my belly, the plane hit turbulence, nearly causing me to plunge the needle into my left arm. I waited for the plane to stabilize and repeated the steps, this time managing to inject myself with the drugs that I hoped would lead to my becoming pregnant. I packed my supplies and walked casually back into the main cabin of the 10-seat Gulfstream that was taking me and my boss, the under secretary of defense for policy, to Afghanistan.

That moment in my two-year journey to having my first son in 2010 came to mind recently during a visit to the University of Texas, Austin. “It is so inspiring to see a woman up on that stage talking about national security,” one young woman said after my talk. Another asked how she could become someone like me.

Moments like those always leave me with mixed emotions. Yes, I am proud of the years I spent working on security issues at senior levels of government. But I never mention the trials and tribulations of trying — often desperately — to have children in your 40s. Nor do I talk about the days and nights that I missed with my first son while I worked at the White House and the Pentagon.

Read the full article in The New York Times.

How Men Should Help More Women Lead

There is a lack of women’s leadership in this country.

In companiesCongressHollywoodtech and certainly in our field of national security, relatively few women have made it to the top. Just as President Obama couldn’t erase racial bias, recent women Secretaries of State haven’t nearly evened the odds for women leaders. Just watch the Sunday talk shows and prime-time cable news panels, which showcase the utter domination of men in foreign affairs and policy more broadly. But it is also true in media, on the Hill, at the State, Defense, and Homeland Security Departments, as well as in the intelligence community, military and with contractors. Women occupy 30% of top leadership positions, at best. The Trump Administration is moving backwardon this issue, if anywhere. The situation is demoralizing for senior women as well as the next generation.

Yet research shows that more diverse leadership groups are more creative, innovative and more likely to avoid “groupthink.” Corporations with more women managers and board members are measurably more profitable. Female members of Congress are judged to be as or more effective than their male colleagues. And if there were no barriers, eventually the people with the most potential for excellence would rise, regardless of their gender or race. So while the lack of women especially women of color in top decision-making spots is a problem of fairness, it is also about making our institutions as successful as they can be.

Read the full article in TIME.

Defense Problems as People Problems: Mattis’s Human Capital Challenge

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s arrival in the Pentagon in late January was to launch an era of intra-Pentagon harmony — familiar face, familiar knife hands, well-known to both the E-ring and the most distant forward operating bases.

But the Department of Defense is an unwieldy, complex beast, and, as former Secretary Ash Carter indicated to Congress, can’t be governed on autopilot even with the best intentions. From a polished, secured office overlooking the Potomac, it’s easy for secretaries of defense to be disconnected from their vast human enterprise, spanning continents but starting with the men and women just outside their door. To succeed in his role, Mattis must give serious attention to how he utilizes his immediate staff. But to excel and leave a worthy legacy for his successors, he should use his position to invest in all civilian human capital under his purview.

Read the full piece on War on the Rocks.

The Case for Inclusivity – Lessons from Four National Security Leaders

Opening Remarks by Julianne Smith

CNAS believes, and in fact the science shows that by including issues and focusing on issues like gender diversity in particular, you can improve the effectiveness of the way in which you formulate ideas and manage teams of people.  Therefore, at CNAS, we ensure that we make every effort that our work, our staff, our projects, all of the conferences we put on, the panels, ensure a wider range of voices and views.

We work tirelessly to include gender diversity in particular as a key component of our work, except right now.  Because the issue of gender inclusivity often involves women presenters speaking to women audiences, we’ve done something a little unusual this morning and we’ve put together an all-star panel of men, which has come to be known as the ever-famous manel.  (Laughter.)  Now, we’ve put together a group of men that are known champions of inclusivity, broadly defined in both policy and practice.  So we’re hoping that you’ll forgive us for this very deliberate manel – it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek – but we do believe that the underlying message of this panel, of this discussion that gender – that including the voice of the 100 percent is not exclusively a priority for the female 50 percent is critical and well-aligned with our national security goals.

So we’ve got a great group of men, again, here assembled for you to talk about ways in which they’ve thought about and included the issue of inclusivity in their work.  I’m going to start by introducing our manel.  We do have a female moderating the panel.  I’ll get to that in a minute.  So our manelists are Colonel Fivecoat, who’s the commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade.  He’s joined by the Honorable Thomas Nides, who is now the managing director and vice chairman of Morgan Stanley.  Of course, he served as deputy secretary of state, undersecretary of Clinton.  He’s also joined by David Swerdlick, who’s an associate editor – assistant editor at the “Washington Post.”  And last but not least these men are joined by Roger Zakheim.  He’s a counsel with Convington & Burling and formerly with the House Armed Services Committee.

This whole panel is being moderated by the very able, very prolific author and scholar at Council on Foreign Relations, Gayle Lemmon.  She’s the author of “Ashley’s War” that I recommend to all of you if you have not read it yet.

Read the full event transcript on the CNAS website.

From College to Cabinet: Women in National Security

On January 20, 2017, a new administration took the helm in the United States. The new president faces a vast set of threats to U.S. national security, including potential challenges from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and dispersed forms of terrorism around the globe.

Thus, the president faces both the challenge and the opportunity of building his national security team from the top down. Individuals in positions such as those of Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, National Security Advisor, Director of National Intelligence, and Secretary of Homeland Security will play critical roles in the provision of U.S. national security. Equally important are key staff roles that support these positions throughout the national security apparatus. The new president will be well advised to think creatively about the most effective individuals to fill these roles. 

Throughout history, the talent pool of women has been underutilized in the national security sector. Trends over the past 40 years—since the first classes of women were accepted to the nation’s military academies—show an increase in the representation of women in the military and throughout national security departments and agencies, including in the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Central Intelligence Agency, and, more recently, the Department of Homeland Security—but not necessarily at the top. In the post-9/11 world, women have made up a larger and more visible portion of the national security establishment, yet they remain in the minority of leadership positions. 

There have been institutional challenges in recruiting and retaining women. Some on-ramps to the national security sector, such as the veterans’ preference policy for federal employment, may unintentionally skew opportunities away from women. The pace of national security careers, particularly those for political appointees, may not be conducive to the challenges of work-life balance or parenthood, at least as the structure of workflow and schedules currently exist. Further, the government is in competition with the private sector for talent.

However, opportunities exist to increase women’s representation and leadership throughout the national security sector. First, while issues of gender equality merit their own exploration, the discussion about the role of women in national security should focus on the effectiveness of diverse teams with clear, measurable metrics and outcomes. Second, in order to fully demonstrate the value of women in the national security apparatus, the departments, agencies, and the National Security Council staff must begin to keep better data on individual, team, and department performance, through which they can evaluate the impact of a variety of team compositions. Third, the national security apparatus can follow the lead of corporate America in finding workforce management practices such as job sharing and scheduling flexibility, which can mitigate retention issues—particularly for parents, though certainly not limited to them. Fourth, the creation of policies that enable more women to succeed in the national security sector does not mean that the national security sector is a zero-sum game in which women can only succeed at the expense of men. In fact, such policies should increase the quality of life—as well as the quality of employees—for everyone. And finally, the concept of mentorship and advocacy needs to be rethought in terms that make sense for career success in the national security field first, while also accounting for the role of gender.

Never has the exigency for placing the right talent in the right positions been more critical. It will require a national security workforce with a diverse set of skills and experiences. In order to access personnel of this caliber, more attention needs to be paid to the role of women in national security. 

Read the full report on the CNAS website.

For Guidance on Women in Combat Positions, Look to the U.S. Coast Guard

In the wake of former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s 2015 decision to open all combat positions to women, the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy have grappled with the practical realities of following this order. Vocal concerns from military personnel and senior leaders have centered on how integrating women could compromise standards and impact force readiness.

These discussions have overlooked a branch of the Armed Forces where women have long had access to all positions: the United States Coast Guard. It is the smallest service, and the only branch of the military that operates as a function of the Department of Homeland Security, rather than the Department of Defense. The Coast Guard strives to protect U.S. maritime interests, with missions covering drug interdiction, environmental protection, immigration law enforcement, and search and rescue, among several others. 

The Coast Guard also offers an established example of what mixed-gender combat units are just beginning to look like. Within its search and rescue mission are the Coast Guard’s rescue swimmers, who typically conduct operations from helicopters in an unforgiving environment, in unrelentingly physical conditions: the open ocean in heavy seas. Rescue swimmers engage in a physically intense job, with the lives of those aboard vessels in distress, as well as the helicopter crew, at stake. This work includes many of the same variables found on the front lines of combat: a high level of risk, the need for physical strength, and the ability to think quickly and adapt to rapidly-changing circumstances. 

Read the full article at Small Wars Journal.

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Women in National Security

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