Progress Report on Women in Peace & Security Careers: U.S. Executive Branch

Thursday, April 1, 2010
Jolynn Shoemaker; Jennifer Park
North America
United States of America

Women hold less than 30 percent of senior positions in the U.S. Executive Branch, according to a new study by Women in International Security (WIIS), a global organization that supports women in peace and security careers.

The new WIIS study, entitled “Progress Report on Women in Peace & Security Careers: U.S. Executive Branch,” is the first ever produced on this topic. Based on over 90 interviews, this study attempts to fill the information gap on women in international security at the federal level. The report reveals that there is no shortage of women who want to pursue a career in government. As one female former Under Secretary of State observed, “women are breaking new ground every day in every foreign policy institution.” However, there is a gap in leadership training, formal mentoring programs, and support for workplace flexibility. According to the research, effective leadership and management are critical factors in women's retention and advancement. The study reveals that women often are not getting the support they need to take on and succeed in leadership positions. Those interviewed indicated that institutional cultures are shifting, but women continue to face unique challenges in establishing credibility, in identifying and cultivating relationships with influential mentors, in obtaining needed training to build strong leadership skills, and in managing home and work life.

According to Jolynn Shoemaker, Executive Director of WIIS and co-author of this report, “The findings in this report can help government, and many other institutions in both the public and private sectors, to improve work environments and advancement opportunities for women. Attracting and retaining talent is critical for U.S. and global security – and security cannot be achieved without women's participation.”

The study highlights key findings gathered from statistical data and conversations with women in government agencies. The findings show that many women remain acutely aware of their minority status in specific areas of international security, which increases the pressure to establish credibility. Mentors play a vital role in furthering the advancement of successful women, yet formal mentoring opportunities are still missing in many federal offices. Women identified leadership training as essential, yet they perceive that this need remains undervalued and unsupported. Women continue to struggle with work-life balance, making trade-offs between professional and personal lives on a daily basis. Women pointed to both structural deficiencies and work cultures as influencing their ability to balance their career and family roles. Support from government leaders – specifically the willingness to prioritize women's advancement and address women's professional and work-life balance needs – made a significant difference in how women in this study viewed work satisfaction and career opportunities.

This report is part of the WIIS Leadership Series, which documents women's participation in various sectors of international security.

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Progress Report on Women in Peace & Security Careers: U.S. Executive Branch