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Think Tanked
Posted at 02:33 PM ET, 07/15/2011

The foreign policy community’s women retention problem

Writing in Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations fellow Micah Zenko points out that Washington’s foreign policy community is seriously lacking women.

That may be obvious to some, but Zenko searched for the numbers to see if that assumption was supported by data. Looking at ten prominent think tanks, he found that less than 30 percent of policy and leadership positions were held by women.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies and Center for American Progress had the highest percentages of women in policy-related roles; the Stimson Center had the highest total percentage of women in all positions at 50 percent.

When Washingtonian magazine listed the salaries of ten think tank leaders, there was only one woman, Jessica Tuchman Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Zenko found the think tank gender trend to be relatively transferrable to academia, USAID and the Pentagon.

Anecdotally, Zenko found three reasons for the gender gap in the U.S. foreign policy community:

1) Women are generally less interested in writing about “hard power,” the dominant mode for discussing foreign policy.

2) Men in senior positions have an “unconscious cronyism” in hiring other men.

3) And, not dissimilar to explanations for the lack of women in corporate leadership, women cite difficulties juggling responsibilities at home with the demands of the job.

Suggesting that there is “unconscious cronyism” to explain the low number of women in these roles may not be a particularly satisfying answer to some and may be infuriating after observing some other data.

In the 1980s, approximately 80 percent of Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) were men. But since that decade, the numbers of women have significantly increased to the point that more women are starting off in the Foreign Service than men. In 2006, 215 women versus 172 men entered the basic A-100 courses held at the Foreign Service Institute--a trend that has held up for approximately the last decade.

What this suggests is that the foreign policy community has a retention and promotion-to-leadership problem.

Women are entering the field. Why is the community unable or unwilling to keep them?

By  |  02:33 PM ET, 07/15/2011

 
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