Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Think Tanks Slammed for Absence of Women in Middle East Debates

Think tanks were slammed today by two scholars for their absence of women in Middle East policy debates.  The authors in the Washington Post piece, Tamara Cofman Wittes of Brookings and Marc Lynch of GWU, said that last year, six leading Washington think tanks held more than 150 events on the Middle East that included not a single woman speaker.  Here is more:
Fewer than one-quarter of all the speakers at the 232 events at those think tanks recorded in our newly compiled data-set were women. How is it possible that in 2014, not a single woman could be found to speak at 65 percent of these influential and high-profile D.C. events?
...As for the think tanks, women run the Middle East Institute, the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution (Tamara Cofman Wittes), the Middle East Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Center for the Middle East and Africa at the U.S. Institute of Peace, and play key roles at the Middle East programs of the Center for a New American Security and the Atlantic Council.
...The paucity of women’s voices in public discussion comes not just from thoughtless conveners, but also from long-standing problems in the professional “pipeline” that carries individuals to the top levels of the field. Inequities in hiring and promotion often reflect, and help perpetuate, the unconscious bias of a male-dominated field.

Tamara Cofman Wittes tells Think Tank Watch that the six think tanks studied were: Brookings, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Wilson Center, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Atlantic Council.

Here is what the two authors are proposing to address this issue:
First, we can commit to consistently drawing attention to the issue – all of us, whatever our level or role in the policy and academic community. Male scholars who are troubled by the ongoing imbalance in our field can take one concrete step that would have faster and more notable impact than any other: They can join colleagues, like the Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder and Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf, in a pledge not to appear on programs that do not include any women, at least not without a clear, satisfying and publicly articulated explanation from the organizers.
Another way we can all help to increase women’s participation in policy discussions and public panels is to highlight women experts, easing the path for busy organizers building media programs or events. Foreign Policy Interrupted, the brainchild of the journalists Lauren Bohn and Elmira Bayrasli, puts out a weekly newsletter of foreign policy writing by women. Women in International Security, founded by a group of women pioneers in national security in 1987, boasts a network of some 7,000 members and a robust Washington chapter including luminaries like Michèle Flournoy, former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. After Foreign Policy’s 2012 Twitterati list was trashed for ignoring women, Twitter users crowdsourced a list of women Twitterati on a wide array of foreign policy topics (100 “FPwomerati;” a larger list is available on request). Tamara Cofman Wittes is building a searchable database of female foreign policy experts that will be publicly available, so that “I couldn’t think of any women to invite” becomes a practical impossibility.

So, are think tank panels generally biased towards the viewpoint of men?  Send your thoughts to Think Tank Watch.

Also, here is a previous Think Tank Watch post about the male-female divide at think tanks, which includes other links to similar pieces.  And here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about a 2014 event on advancing women in the think tank sector.

Think Tank Watch predicts many more women will be on think tank panels in 2015 and beyond.

By the way, is there also a lack of mid-level experts at think tanks?

Updated: Here is the list of leading think tanks' record on woman's inclusion on think tank panels.