The Absence of Women Scholars On Foreign Policy Panels and How Men Are Still Running the Show

The WIIS [Women in International Security] Gender Scorecard: Washington, D.C. Think Tanks 2018 highlighted how men are still running the show in foreign and security policy establishments. Only five think tanks have at least 40 percent women scholars: the Stimson Center (52%), the Nuclear Threat Initiative (50%), the United States Institute for Peace (49%), the Institute for Policy Studies (44%), and the RAND Corporation (40%). The vast majority of the think tanks actually have less than 30% female scholars.

In the peculiar D.C. think-tank environment, visibility is a major component for success on the job, and the first step toward that success is speaking on panels. In 2014, Tamara Wittes and Mak Lynch described on Monkey Cage how only 25 percent of D.C. speakers were women. In the framework of an EU-funded research project on women leaders at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), we analyzed the presence of women in every 2018 public foreign policy-related event listed on the websites of think-tanks ranked by the WIIS report.

The results are not encouraging: in 2018, there was one woman for every three men (34 percent) on D.C. foreign policy panels, and 27 percent of the panels were manels — that is, all-male panels. To make things worse, in most cases, the woman on the panel was the moderator, not actually a speaker. This perpetuates the idea that women can be gracious hosts, but not real experts.


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