Reflections on the Ongoing Interruption

Earlier this week, I attended a talk at the New America Foundation conducted in collaboration with Foreign Policy Interrupted, an endeavor formed by Elmira Bayrasli and Lauren Bohn to elevate the voice of women (and other underrepresented voices) in the foreign policy space. Moderated by New America CEO and President Anne-Marie Slaughter, Elmira and Lauren were joined on the stage by Karen Finney, a former MSNBC contributer now with Media Matters for America, and the lone man on stage, Ben Pauker, executive editor of Foreign Policy Magazine.

The subject is obvious from the people on the stage: women’s voices in the foreign policy space.

It still is true that the only time women will outnumber men on a DC stage, they are talking about women. That said, the conversation was informative. Slaughter attempted to steer it through outlining the problem, discussing where it comes from, and getting to how to fix foreign policy’s women issue. As with many of these sorts of discussions it leaned heavily on the description of the problem and lighter on the solutions. This isn’t on purpose (the event was by no means a woe is me a lone woman in FP whine-fest), this happens because the solutions are deceptively simple. So simple you almost don’t have to talk about them.

How do you get more women speaking in the foreign policy and national security space?

First, more women need to start talking.

Second, those responsible for amplifying voices–editors and bookers–need publish & promote more women.

No one wants check-the-box equality for women. There are already qualified women in the field but editors don’t know them. If the gatekeepers (there was a great April 2014 Micah Zenko article on this, but its full link is a dead end) don’t make a conscious effort to seek out new voices (and this is doubly hard if those voices stay quiet) other editors will never even know the names to consider. It’s a causality dilemma. If more women speak and write on maritime security in Asia, for example, when an editor is looking for someone to write on maritime security in Asia he/she will be more likely to find a female expert. The easier it is to find a female expert, the more of them editors will publish, and so on. Chicken, meet egg.

Confidence.
Now, to confidence. Sometimes, discussion of the role of confidence, or lack thereof, treads into treacherous waters alluding to a gender-specific deficiency. If only women would speak up, stop researching, and just click submit! Again, deceptively simple. If a woman is hesitant to speak on a subject she doesn’t believe herself to be an expert on, I do not know that it is a net negative to turn the offer away. We could all probably do with a little more research and less bloviating/plagiarism/regurgitating the common line or worse, pulling a paragraph from Wikipedia and just winging it.

I would, instead, link this perceived lack of confidence to the dearth of female role models. Young experts of all kinds suffer from a lack of confidence. Men and women submit pieces into black boxes, never to hear back from an editor. The difference is that young men, facing rejection, see on the cover of every magazine they admire, the name of a man. A different man each time. To them it is only a numbers game.

Women have a host of champions. We know all their names and can recite them like a mantra: Albright-Rice-Clinton-Slaughter-Flournoy. When we see a woman’s name on an article she is the best of the best. We perceive the bar to be higher than it actually is, and therein lies our hesitation to submit a less-than-perfect piece. For us, it is not a numbers game. There is only one spot for a woman (the “look we have a woman” spot) and you have to be the best to get it.

This is where friends, colleagues, family come in. Women need the push, not because of a lack of confidence in our own knowledge, but because of a lack of confidence in the system. A lack of confidence that it is worth our time and that we are in fact being seriously considered.

At the end of the day she who never pitches, never publishes.

Ladies & Gentlemen, Help Your Editors Out.
Here, too, is a role for editors. (Hi, I’m an editor!) And we could use a little help.

At the mercy of time and the Rolodex (just kidding, us Millennial editors use twitter lists and excel spreadsheets), we editors often need a warm body with a swift pen, yesterday. We go to names we know and because the way the system has existed the names we know are largely men. Help us out.

One of the best things I heard at the New America event was that when an expert has to turn down an offer–for a TV appearance, an op-ed, a column–he or she should suggest a women who can do the job. Trust me, on the editorial side nothing could be better than a “no, sorry, I can’t… but I know someone who can.”

Seriously, got someone, anyone, good on Asia? (All Asia, we at The Diplomat ascribe to a broad, inclusive perception of the region) Tell me their name, I’ll add them to my lists.

The truth is, when you (man or woman or nonaffiliated) get a request you cannot do because you are either unavailable or not right for, suggest a woman or another underrepresented voice. Suggest anyone who is good but undiscovered. Any smart pen will do regardless of whose hand wields it. A recommendation is priceless.

Living The Dream.
I’ve recently fallen in with a crowd of military strategy & NatSec folks in DC. I got looped in by tweeting Afghanistan with a few guys & being an editor for a publication they read. On Twitter we’re all avatars and words, anyway. My avatar is actually me, I’m standing in front of a walrus painting. It says this about me: don’t take me too seriously, but if you know where that walrus painting hangs you’ll be impressed.

Each month this group gathers, has drinks and invites a speaker. My first time with the group, I was one of two women sitting in this cigar bar talking about terrorists. Should there be more women in that room? Yes. When I have the opportunity to invite someone else in, I’ll bring in another woman.. These guys formed the group from the network they had, which was largely military and thus largely male. I was welcomed with enthusiasm. I talked strategy, I talked radical Islam. I pushed back, hard, on a guy way above my pay-grade as the saying goes, who said something I disagreed with.

After a few minutes of back and forth, his arguments were exhausted. He nodded and we both moved amicably onto other conversations. I don’t know if I convinced him but I know I gave him something to think about.

That’s what this is about. Being taken seriously.

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