Foreign Policy Leadership Should Reflect Our Diversity

“As the United States becomes more ethnically diverse in the coming decades and as the country becomes more accustomed to seeing women in positions of leadership in other sectors of society, a national security establishment that does not reflect that diversity will become increasingly disconnected from the American public that it serves.”

Reuben E. Brigety, II, Dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University and former U.S. Representative to the African Union

According to UN Women, “women’s meaningful participation in peace processes increases the likelihood that an agreement will last longer than 15 years by as much as 35 per cent.” In other words, in addition to reflecting the diversity of our population, involving women in leadership and at the negotiating table makes a quantifiable difference. Today, career foreign service officer and diversity advocate Lia Miller shares her perspective on why we need more women of color in foreign policy and national security leadership positions.

photo credit: Andrew Bossi [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ],  via Wikimedia Commons

photo credit: Andrew Bossi [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Many of us were excited to see the inauguration of the new House, with historic numbers of women (102 in total), people of color, and LGBTQI representatives from 48 of 50 states sworn into office, marking another shift in America’s consciousness in terms of the form leaders can take and who we the people feel can speak for us. Despite this promising start to the new term, the question remains as to whether the increased number of women and broader minority group representation will extend to the many government agencies who carry out the important work of both the executive and legislative branches, which even today do not reflect the full diversity of American society. This is especially the case in the fields of national security and foreign policy.

Why does this specific demographic remain the status quo in positions of leadership?

The leadership in these sectors, historically and currently, continues to be largely male-dominated and white, which raises the question: why does this specific demographic remain the status quo in positions of leadership? Women and members of traditional minority groups have been working in these fields for as long as the fields have existed. Though not in the most senior echelons, they are present and contributing nonetheless. With the advent of diversity and social inclusion programs that reflect big D diversity (varied gender, racial and ethnic, religious, socio-economic, and geographical groups), the numbers have changed positively in both public sector institutions as well as private sector think-tank, research, and academic organizations. Yet there is still much work to do, as the numbers don’t hold beyond the entry levels in terms of reflecting women and otherwise diverse leadership at the mid-level and upper ranks.

Diverse teams and workplaces have proven time and again to be the most successful model in the private sector.

Studies within the last five years from the Harvard Business Review to McKinsey & Company, among others, have demonstrated that the more diverse a company is, the more financial returns they will realize by upwards of 35% compared to their less diverse rivals. Why? Because diverse teams instinctively understand a diverse clientele, and as a result of that understanding are in a position to provide better and more catered services to their clients. The implications in the public sector are substantial, particularly in the foreign policy and national security space. As one of the most diverse nations in the world, boasting the largest military and one of the largest diplomatic corps, we are uniquely positioned to be a global foreign policy and national security powerhouse. Before this ideal can truly be realized, we need to bridge the gap between our increasing national diversity and the lack of it at senior leadership levels in public institutions where an individual’s authority and experience have real influence and where one can shape policy.

So how do we get there?

The good news is that, like GenderAvenger, there are many organizations unwilling to wait for things to change on their own. Those organizations actively pursuing a level playing field and working to ensure all voices, particularly historically marginalized voices, are heard in foreign policy and national security include:

We must continue to support these efforts and do our individual parts to make sure we have diverse representation and diverse leadership in general, especially in the public sector where the best of us all should be reflected.