Tag Archives: liberal feminism

The Lack of Women in Foreign Policy Circles: Causes and Consequences

Hillary Clinton was preceded by Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice at the State Department, but is this a glaring exception to a "good old boys" club? How prominent are women in the foreign policy establishment?

A recent article in Foreign Policy entitled City of Men highlights the “staggering absence” of women in the United States foreign policy community (including the State Department, Defense Department, the military, think tanks, and academia).   Some of the key findings from author Micah Zenko’s research are as follows:

* only 23% of international relations professors are women

* only 16% of the Pentagon’s 129 “senior defense officials” are women

* the percentage of female officers does not reach 20% in any U.S. military branch (ranging from 19% in the Air Force to 6% in the Marines)

* women make up 22% of the senior leaders at the State Department, 29% of ambassadors abroad, and 29% of senior foreign service positions at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)

* women hold only 21% of the policy-related positions at foreign policy oriented think tanks

Why are women so woefully underrepresented at these institutions?  Zenko suggests three reasons: (1) women may be less interested in researching and writing about hard power, the predominant method used in foreign policy, (2) this gender imbalance reinforces itself as men (consciously or unconsciously) select other men for key positions and women feel uncomfortable in these male-dominated settings, and (3) women may be less willing or able to take on these extraordinarily time-intensive jobs given that they are frequently the ones bearing a disproportionate share of the burden in raising families.  An article by former U.S. foreign service officer Patricia Kushlis suggests reason #2 may be the primary culprit; she cites the experiences of a foreign service officer who found that “nice girls” were labeled overly pliable and assertive women were labeled pushy and unstable in their evaluation reports.  In a follow-up piece Zenko noted that several women told him the problem was not a lack of interest in hard power solutions, but in the “predominant Washington-centric focus” of America’s foreign policy community.  One of Zenko’s colleagues told him “Women are more likely to see the other side´s point of view,” and “Women see less of a zero-sum game.”

This brings us to the question of consequences.  How is the lack of women in key foreign policy positions–in the U.S. and elsewhere–affecting international relations?  Liberal feminism argues that women and men will behave generally the same when they reach the pinnacle of power (such scholars cite Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, and other assertive female leaders to debunk the notion that having women in charge would somehow make the world a more peaceful or understanding place).  But difference feminism argues there are real differences in the way men and women approach world politics.  Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the National Security Network, cites the work of Anne-Marie Slaughter to suggest that “our increasingly networked, horizontal world may privilege the brains and societal training that women — who are prepared to be relationship-builders and nurturers — receive.”   Hurlburt also notes that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reportedly built a “special circle of relationships with other women leaders” and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “hasn’t shied away from saying that her gender makes her more determined to speak out about war-time atrocities committed against women in Congo and more focused on how women’s equality and opportunity can lift up entire societies economically and politically.”

What do you think?  What difference would it make (if any) if women gained greater representation in the foreign policy establishment?  What is the solution to this gender imbalance, and how long would it take to achieve?