The Biden administration is becoming the most diverse in US history. Women will fill half of the cabinet-level positions announced by the transition team, and while men still hold key security portfolios – the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State, the CIA, and the National and Deputy National Security Advisor – the Biden team has several historic ones Appointments made in the areas of foreign policy and security.
Avril Haines as First Female Director of National Intelligence, Kathleen Hicks as First Assistant Secretary of Defense, Linda Thomas-Greenfield as US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power as Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) as the women who make up more than half of the senior staff of the National Security Council.
With more than 200 Senate-confirmed foreign policy and national security leadership positions to be appointed once the administration is in the White House, numerous groups are working to maintain commitment to parity at all levels. As early as September, the Leadership Coalition for Women in National Security (LCWINS) provided a database of 850 women who were ready to take on leadership positions in the field of security and foreign policy for both campaigns.
For at least a century, American women's groups have been collecting and broadcasting names of women willing to take on political roles to ensure their voices are heard on issues of international concern. When presidential candidate Mitt Romney responded to a debate question about diversity related to his office's "folders full of women" in 2012, the line quickly became a meme that spawned satirical office supplies and memorable Halloween costumes, but the strategy of providing officials with women lists have an outstanding legacy.
Lists compiled by women's groups at the end of the First and Second World Wars show that women have long been qualified women to take on foreign and security roles. What has changed is not the availability of talent, but increased public pressure and political will to appoint women, as well as a growing body of research backing up claims made by previous generations. Leaders and activists today rightly argue that nominating women for international posts is not only the right thing, but the smart thing too. In the face of unprecedented global challenges, diversity in foreign policy leadership is critical to strengthening national security.
Lobbying efforts to appoint more women to international roles were well underway at the end of World War I when American activists partnered with international NGOs to petition the 1919 Paris Peace Conference calling for women to do so all standing commissions should be appointed the same terms as men. "The Council for the Representation of Women in the League of Nations and its constituents regularly produced lists of women who could serve on committees and delegations – although their arguments were based on claims about maternal instincts and peace-loving tendencies of women, arguments for women in particular were required in “positions that would be appropriate for their particular skills”, namely human trafficking, child welfare and “women's issues”.
Inundated with nominations, many countries were required to appoint a woman or two, usually to the Fifth Committee that settled social issues. Although only a few women reached leadership positions in the league, the presence of female delegates, experts and staff gave the NGOs the opportunity to stand up for women's rights. American women's groups successfully used these relationships to address issues such as child marriage, equal citizenship rights, and reporting on the status of women around the world.
As World War II ended, women tried again to secure their place in international politics. In late 1942, a group of academics, activists, and NGO leaders formed the Committee on Women's Involvement in Postwar Planning (CPWPWP) to identify qualified women for international roles. Their work received a major boost in 1944 when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt hosted a one-day conference at the White House entitled "How Women Can Participate in Post-War Political Planning."
Participants formulated a list of 260 names "qualified in many and varied areas such as international law and relations" – compiled from 750 submissions from across the country – that were sent to the President and Foreign Minister. Conference Chairperson Charl Ormond Williams emphasized: "It is (our) deep hope that one or more qualified women (…) will be appointed to all commissions aimed at establishing peaceful relations in this war-torn world."
The CPWPWP, unusual for its time, comprised both white and black women's organizations. Mary McLeod Bethune – president of the National Council on Negro Women – submitted a list of black journalists, civic activists, lawyers, and doctors eligible for political office, one of which, Edith Sampson, would be the first black U.S. delegate to the United Nations Year 1950.
The only female US delegate to the 1945 Charter Conference of the United Nations, Dean Virginia Gildersleeve of Barnard College, credited the CPWPWP list in an interview: “I feel appointed because American women are seeking representation and my name is on the The list they had compiled. "When asked about the list by a Herald Tribune reporter, Roosevelt replied," Now a man can no longer say that he cannot imagine a woman qualified in a certain field. "
The post-war lobbyists extended their arguments for representation beyond the mother. Women's participation was "both just and indispensable," according to a 1943 CPWPWP pamphlet. "A new world will require new thinking," she continued, and women's unique perspectives would add to invaluable expertise.
Following the demands of the CPWPWP, successor groups have emphasized that diversity offers creative solutions to global challenges. And considerable research now confirms this. Often cited studies from the business world show that companies with greater gender and ethnicity in corporate governance consistently outperform companies with fewer women and people of color. In the area of foreign policy and security, the representation of women also makes a difference. Although individual women do not necessarily make qualitatively different political decisions than their male counterparts, women's participation in peace and security correlates with better results overall.
When women sign peace agreements, they are more likely to implement them. Globally, greater political participation by women leads to a longer duration of peace, a lower likelihood of a civil war relapse and fewer cases of human rights violations by the state. And their presence can mean women's concerns are incorporated into the law. Female cabinet officials have a significant influence on the adoption of policies that create a friendlier work environment for women, and women in Congress are more likely to introduce foreign policy laws targeting women and girls. Likewise, women mayors are more likely to allocate city budgets to education, healthcare, and social issues.
Despite this growing evidence, security and foreign policy leadership has remained largely male. In the Trump State Department, only 13 of the top 34 officials were women; under Obama, 14. In the Department of Defense, outgoing President Donald Trump appointed six women to the top 23 roles and President Barack Obama only five. The persistently low numbers correspond to what political scientists Karen Beckwith and Susan Franceschet have called “concrete floor”. Looking at cabinet posts in seven countries, they find that the number of women appointed tends to become the norm in all administrations, even if the number of cabinet positions and the party of the president fluctuate.
In the current security landscape, where imminent crises like COVID-19 are emerging, women's representation is even more important. While evidence that female leaders have been more successful in containing the spread of the coronavirus is scant, it is clear that traditionally male leadership styles have only exacerbated the challenge.
Two new studies show that the more male respondents identify with male norms, the less likely they are to wear a protective mask, and a third study shows that those who hold sexist beliefs are following government policies to curb the spread of COVID -19 less likely to support. In fact, many of the countries with the highest per capita COVID cases – including the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and Russia – have leaders who both embrace macho stereotypes and initially openly violate public health guidelines. Following a destabilizing global pandemic that disproportionately affects women and girls, it is no longer possible to maintain the status quo.
During the primaries, new US President Joe Biden signed a pledge that he would strive for gender equality in national security and foreign policy, which would change the face of the field significantly. If the Biden administration is serious about keeping this promise, it should have no problem finding qualified women to take on these roles – a list already exists.