What Keeps Women Out of the Security Industry?

Heather Hurlburt addresses Micah Zenko’s essay on the “woeful underrepresentation of women in the U.S. national security policymaking establishment.” She cites three explanations put forth by Zenko before arguing that the third is most important:

  • Women’s preference for soft issues.
  • Women’s greater struggles with the balance between work and family.
  • Too many powerful men tend to create work environments that privilege men over women.

I think the last two explanations carry more weight than the first.  But it’s worth taking a moment to turn the mirror around. Perhaps it’s not that women prefer soft issues or that men prefer the comfort of other men as much as it is that men are inclined to think that the security industry is cooler, more efficacious, and more morally pure than it really is. Maybe there’s something about testosterone that makes us go way overboard in what should be the most supremely somber, self-critical profession.

When I study security in an academic environment, it’s fun and interesting and we can be real about what we’re discussing. But in my exposure to the defense and security industry in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors, I’ve found that the people (i.e., men) who tend to succeed are WAY too bought in to the righteousness of their cause. Perhaps it’s because the stakes are too high to stomach ambiguity, but in any case many have clearly come to believe that, in the end, their decisions will always be justified.

Virtually none are willing to intellectually engage in a discussion in which the conclusion remains on the table that more harm than good came from their actions. This, in turn, feeds back into the first issue: Women who already face extra barriers to entry and advancement are probably much less inclined to fight these battles for a profession that is largely clueless about its moral and ethical shortcomings.

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