Response: Where are the Women Wonks?

written by On July 17, 2012 in 2010-2016, Uncategorized, WIIS Blog

By WIIS Staff

The Washington Monthly article, “Where are the Women Wonks?” by Anne Kim has created a stir similar to last month’s hype over Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in the Atlantic Monthly, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”. The question that Anne Kim poses is a good one, mostly because of how complicated and deep rooted the answer is.  As she points out, multitudes of women enter the workforce with the same education and intelligence as men, however somewhere along the way, their numbers dwindle.  Although the article brings up many important issues, one assertion needs to be set straight. Kim writes, “There has not yet been a high-profile mentoring effort for women in public policy or an organized network for women to help each other.”  Our organization, Women in International Security (WIIS) has been studying and addressing this issue as it pertains to the “Daddy issue,” International Security, since it was founded in 1987.

WIIS is an affiliated program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which is a highly respected bipartisan international affairs think-tank.  WIIS not only researches women’s participation in the peace and security field and promotes visibility for women experts, but it also organizes and fosters networking, professional development, mentoring, and communication on global women’s issues.  WIIS has about 7,000 members from 47 different countries.  WIIS experts have formed groups in 17 countries and in 6 locations throughout the United States.  Members’ expertise is broad: ranging from nonproliferation and terrorism, to human rights, development, environmental security and conflict resolution.  WIIS serves as a bridge-builder among these diverse communities, and works to advance women’s leadership at all career stages.

However, the problem with networking is that it is grassroots in nature, and requires women to talk openly and communicate their needs.  WIIS research and discussions demonstrate the need for female mentors and trail-blazers who have successfully made it through the pipeline to help them navigate the fraternal world of international affairs.  Progress has been made in female participation, but many areas of public policy remain under-represented, therefore omitting women’s unique voices and contributions. Women need sponsorship and professional development to succeed in decision-making positions, and many women self-eliminate from opportunities for a variety of reasons.  Women perceive that they face unique trade-offs and sacrifices to achieve career advancement.  Work-life balance, as recently debated by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Sheryl Sandberg, and other professional women, is a prominent figure in the absence of female leadership.

Another problem that exists is that women are still fighting for equality in the workplace and in society.  There are issues that hit close to home for women, such as equal pay, violence against women, and reproductive rights.  Men may argue these points on the news, but women in great numbers are working on these issues in a variety of ways, whether it is research, advocacy, and program implementation.  These issues are not likely to subside quietly into the night any time soon—but there is hope that one day enough progress will be made, so instead of debating gender equality issues, women can simply work side by side with men on all issues.

So the answer to Anne Kim’s question is, the women wonks are out there.  There are many challenges that women face in achieving top-level positions in think-tanks or other public policy institutions.  Women continue to feel forced to make decisions that men rarely face in order to become “known” policy experts.  Issues such as trucks, money, and bombs resonate with and impact women and men differently, and therefore insights from both genders are required—much like the “Mommy” issues of welfare and poverty that Ms. Kim writes about.  Women coming up through the pipeline are doing everything that Ms. Kim suggested; they are acknowledging the problem, organizing a network, and searching for solutions.  However, more needs to be done, and it needs more attention and publicity.  WIIS is working on analyzing, supporting and advocating for women’s leadership opportunities, trying to give the issue the spotlight it deserves, but more participation and activism is required at all levels.   Men and women need to work together to confront the issue with more vivacity and strength, and increase recognition that a woman’s perspective, on all policy issues, is an imperative that is in everyone’s interest.  Until that day, WIIS, its members, and partnering organizations will continue the slow but steady work of bringing more women to the forefront of policy wonks, experts and leaders.