Hoover Institution panelists say women face significant barriers in national security, academia

March 8, 2021, 9:13 p.m.

Hoover Institution fellow and former NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller made no bones about the challenges of being a woman in foreign policy and national security.

“You have to have a tough hide,” she said at a Monday event commemorating the role of women in national security for International Womens’ Day. “There’s no way around it, because it is often not forgiving and the games that can be played both by foreign counterparts and by your own country can be really extreme.”

Gottemoeller was one of four fellows at the Hoover Institute who gathered on Zoom to discuss the roles and challenges of women in the fields of foreign policy, national security, and intelligence. All said that navigating the national security and foreign policy landscape as a woman came with challenges.

The discussion, which was led by current Hoover Institution Director and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, included Hoover Institutions fellows Elizabeth Economy M.A ’85, Amy Zegart Ph.D. ’96, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Gottemoeller.

Zegart, an expert in international security and intelligence, said there is a shortage of women pursuing academia in the United States. According to Zegart, it is much easier to be a woman in intelligence than a woman in academia.

While she said universities have come a long way since the beginning of her academic career, Zegart said universities need to be deliberate, creative and flexible in addressing the additional challenges that female academics face. 

“I’ve been a career academic, and I had three kids before I came up for tenure,” she said. “There’s an inescapable challenge in the academy for women, which is that the biology clock coincides with the tenure clock.”

Additionally, Zegart called on the Hoover Institute to push for the creation of introductory classes in national security and cybersecurity for freshmen and sophomores. With so many computer science majors at Stanford, such a program could attract more women to these areas and improve the representation of women across cybersecurity fields, according to Zegart.

Women’s representation is lacking in other nations’ political systems as well, according to the fellows. Economy, senior fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, brought up the underrepresentation of women in Chinese politics. 

“China is a good decade behind the United States, at least in terms of how they look at women,” she said. “Women who are pregnant can be fired, they get paid less, and there are still a lot of companies that advertise for women who are attractive for positions.” 

“The feminist movement is alive but not that well in recent times, because the Chinese government had cracked down on it,” she added.

Economy was disappointed with her own experiences doing research in China as a woman. She found that there were few women present in her academic deliberations on foreign policy and national security. According to Economy, this disregard for female voices will only be detrimental to the future of Chinese scholarship.

“I feel sad, quite frankly, for the younger Chinese scholars that are not getting the opportunities to engage with their foreign counterparts,” she said. 

Gottemoeller also said there are similar issues plaguing young women in Russia, many of whom are talented research and diplomats, but will likely struggle to “rise up through the ranks” because of the extra barriers they face.

Hirshi Ali, a Dutch American activist and politician, said that creating pity for women is not the goal of talking about these disparities.

“The challenge is how to use your voice without coming across as a victim,” she said. “I have a sense of pride, I have a sense of achievement, and I have a sense of myself. I am not looking for that condescending tap on my shoulder. I’m looking for how can we resolve this as a society.”

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