Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Average DC Think Tank Event = Five Guys in Suits?

Anne Kim, Progressive Policy Institute's (PPI) Managing Director for Policy and Strategy, wrote a piece for the July/August 2012 edition of the left-of-center Washington Monthly titled "Where Are The Woman Wonks?  Why the average D.C. think tank event features five guys in suits."

Here are some excerpts/highlights:
Every day in Washington, D.C., brings numerous announcements about the various policy events, forums, and conferences around town that serve as meet-and-greets for the city’s thinking elite. In addition to a prepackaged muffin or a stale sandwich and some badly brewed coffee, these events typically feature a slate of experts on whatever topic is the focus. Also typically, most of these experts are men.
Certainly, some of the most powerful people in policy today are women, such as the Center for American Progress’s president, Neera Tanden, and Sarah Rosen Wartell, president of the Urban Institute. But male “brand-name” policy experts far outnumber the women. Men—white men—dominate the senior management at many of the most influential D.C. think tanks. And men—white men—dominate the ranks of “scholars” in many institutions.
Even at such venerable tanks as the Brookings Institution, male scholars heavily outnumber women. The worst offenders, not surprisingly, are the right-wing think tanks, many of whose staff rosters look like the membership of Augusta National. The Heritage Foundation, for example, has fifteen (almost identical) white men on their “senior management” page and only two women, neither of whom hold policy positions. At the American Enterprise Institute, just eight of the sixty resident scholars are women, as is only one of the institution’s top five officials.
There are a number of possible explanations for the dearth of women in wonkery. The first is generational— people at think tanks are old. It’s no coincidence that almost everyone who works in think tanks is a “senior fellow.” Often, think tank fellows are senior in all meanings of the word. Washington has always revered two types of talent: the fresh and brilliant wunderkind, and the been-there and done-it-all sage. Think tanks especially revere the Yoda types—and women Yodas are few and far between.
A second possible explanation for the shortage of women wonks is that the situation is symptomatic of the larger shortage of women in politics. A common path to a think tank is to hold elected office or to work in a senior position on the Hill or in the White House. But according to the Center for American Women and Politics, women currently hold just 16.8 percent of the seats in Congress—seventy-three in the House, and seventeen in the Senate. And in the course of our nation’s history, women have held only forty-five Cabinet or Cabinet- level posts. According to a review of compensation studies by Politico, 41 percent of House chiefs of staff and 37 percent of House legislative directors in 2010 were women, compared to 84 percent of executive assistants and 82 percent of schedulers.
A third possible explanation for the small number of women wonks is that women “self-select” into certain policy areas. And, indeed, there are some arenas in which women dominate—such as social policy, education, and, of course, abortion rights. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find many prominent male experts in these areas. But do women truly self-select into these policy areas, or is there an implicit glass ceiling that makes it tougher for women to achieve prominence in other fields? Many of the biggest and “sexiest” macroeconomic policy areas that drive the most attention—think tax, budget, and finance—are largely the province of men. An unfortunate implication of this gender split is that there are “Daddy” issues and “Mommy” ones— i.e., testosterone-charged issues involving trucks, money, and bombs, and “softer” issues like welfare and poverty.
Which leads to a final possible reason for the scarcity of women in policy: chauvinism. But, hey, it’s 2012, right? Unfortunately, the holy grail for many think tankers is to be a cable TV regular. And for this, women clearly face a higher bar—not only must they be policy experts, they must be policy babes. (Men, on the other hand, feel no pressure to be policy hunks. Just ask Bill O’Reilly.)
Also, check out the comments section from the article; many people are complaining about the photo used (which you can find above).

So, does a women need to be a "policy babe" to succeed at a think tank?  Does the think tank world have a go-to policy babe?  Should someone be putting together a list of the most beautiful people in think tank land, an exercise that The Hill newspaper does with Congressional staffers in its 50 Most Beautiful People on Capitol Hill?

Perhaps Think Tank Watch can put together the first-ever 50 Most Beautiful People of Think Tank Land...