Author: CNAS Staff

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

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.

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Women in National Security

Women in National Security | Center for a New American Security