December 21, 2017

To Pluck a Brown Feathered Goose: On Being a Woman of Color in National Security

By Brittney Washington and Jeesue Lee

As a field that centers on defense and foreign relations, national security has had a long history of being predominantly male. Recent public debate on women and national security have rightfully acknowledged this problem, showing how gender biasesunequal pay and work-family life challenges have posed barriers to greater progress. However, we have also found a lack of recognition of the racial biases and barriers to inclusion that women of color must also confront to excel in the field of national security.

As an African American woman who researches Indo-Pacific Security and as an Asian American woman with no family heritage of military service who specializes in military affairs, we are seen as anomalies in the national security sector. To some degree, we are part of a larger movement the industry is undergoing now. We have felt and continue to feel the brunt of challenges facing young women of color in our field. We also want to identify and move toward solutions to those challenges—for the sake of not only our careers, but the future of this workforce, and the world.

The immediate challenge for women of color in national security is the career pipeline itself. Women of color in this sector are competing for positions and opportunities within a very exclusive professional network. They often find themselves supplementing multiple unpaid, full-time internships with part-time jobs in order to make ends meet. And for young women of color, same-gender, same-race mentorship—an invaluable asset in the rat race—is a rarity.

Read the full op-ed in Ms. Magazine.