April 05, 2017

From College to Cabinet

Women in National Security

By Katherine Kidder, Amy Schafer, Phillip Carter and Andrew Swick

On January 20, 2017, a new administration took the helm in the United States. The new president faces a vast set of threats to U.S. national security, including potential challenges from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and dispersed forms of terrorism around the globe.1 

Thus, the president faces both the challenge and the opportunity of building his national security team from the top down. Individuals in positions such as those of Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, National Security Advisor, Director of National Intelligence, and Secretary of Homeland Security will play critical roles in the provision of U.S. national security. Equally important are key staff roles that support these positions throughout the national security apparatus. The new president will be well advised to think creatively about the most effective individuals to fill these roles. 

Throughout history, the talent pool of women has been underutilized in the national security sector. Trends over the past 40 years—since the first classes of women were accepted to the nation’s military academies—show an increase in the representation of women in the military and throughout national security departments and agencies, including in the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Central Intelligence Agency, and, more recently, the Department of Homeland Security—but not necessarily at the top. In the post-9/11 world, women have made up a larger and more visible portion of the national security establishment, yet they remain in the minority of leadership positions. 

There have been institutional challenges in recruiting and retaining women. Some on-ramps to the national security sector, such as the veterans’ preference policy for federal employment, may unintentionally skew opportunities away from women. The pace of national security careers, particularly those for political appointees, may not be conducive to the challenges of work-life balance or parenthood, at least as the structure of workflow and schedules currently exist. Further, the government is in competition with the private sector for talent.

However, opportunities exist to increase women’s representation and leadership throughout the national security sector. First, while issues of gender equality merit their own exploration, the discussion about the role of women in national security should focus on the effectiveness of diverse teams with clear, measurable metrics and outcomes. Second, in order to fully demonstrate the value of women in the national security apparatus, the departments, agencies, and the National Security Council staff must begin to keep better data on individual, team, and department performance, through which they can evaluate the impact of a variety of team compositions. Third, the national security apparatus can follow the lead of corporate America in finding workforce management practices such as job sharing and scheduling flexibility, which can mitigate retention issues—particularly for parents, though certainly not limited to them. Fourth, the creation of policies that enable more women to succeed in the national security sector does not mean that the national security sector is a zero-sum game in which women can only succeed at the expense of men. In fact, such policies should increase the quality of life—as well as the quality of employees—for everyone. And finally, the concept of mentorship and advocacy needs to be rethought in terms that make sense for career success in the national security field first, while also accounting for the role of gender.

In the post-9/11 world, women have made up a larger and more visible portion of the national security establishment, yet they remain in the minority of leadership positions.

Never has the exigency for placing the right talent in the right positions been more critical. It will require a national security workforce with a diverse set of skills and experiences. In order to access personnel of this caliber, more attention needs to be paid to the role of women in national security. 

Introduction

Research establishes the value of diversity for institutional performance in both the public and private sectors. Private firms with greater gender diversity tend to perform better financially, particularly when they are engaged in innovation.2 More diverse military organizations, including some of the nation’s most elite forces engaged in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, perform better on the battlefield, in part because of the innovative approaches to problem-solving that more diverse teams bring. And yet despite this data, women remain underrepresented at the top echelons of the national security and private sectors.3 In part this relates to institutional barriers unique to the national security field, such as the historical emphasis on military service, which for decades has provided limited opportunity to women. The problem also partly relates to broader societal phenomena that women face, such as the intersection of family and work life and the role played by mentor/protégé networks.

While women are underrepresented at the top, they are present. In 2015, 2 of the 5 Under Secretaries of Defense, 1 of the 5 Principal Under Secretaries of Defense, and 2 of the 14 Assistant Secretaries of Defense were women. At the State Department, 1 of the 2 Deputy Secretaries of State, 4 of the 6 Under Secretaries of State, and 11 of the 26 Assistant Secretaries of State were women. Among all U.S. military generals and admirals, 7.1 percent are women.4 As a point of comparison, 5.4 percent of Fortune 500 (27 of 500) companies are led by female CEOs.5 

The presence of women at the top—however limited—is a promising indication that there is a pathway for mobility. It also indicates a cultural acceptance of women in leadership positions—which has not always been the case within the national security community. But the low numbers of women in leadership positions, particularly given the growing number of women graduating from elite national security and policy programs, point to structural issues within the human capital pipeline of women in national security, whether at the moment of recruitment or related to retention. It could be that too few women are entering the national security sector, or perhaps they are not staying long enough to reach the top.

In recent years, the role of women in the workplace has received significant attention.6 Much of the literature has focused on careers in general, on women in technology, female entrepreneurs, or women in the private sector. Yet not enough attention has been paid to government, specifically to women in the national security field. This study aims to provide data demonstrating the current state of national security female employees, tracing their numbers from undergraduate and graduate programs through entry level and middle-management positions, and on through cabinet level positions. The goal is to explore the points at which their representation diminishes. 

The main research questions that this study examines are as follows: What is the representation of women in the national security sector at the beginning of their careers? What is the representation of women in national security leadership positions? If there is a disparity between the two, where does the national security sector lose women in the process? What are some of the policies that can be adopted to retain or reintroduce women into the national security sector? What are the on-ramps and off-ramps over the course of a career?

Scoping, Methodology, and Framing

Scoping

This report focuses on women in national security, including civil servants and political appointees. For the purposes of this study, the “national security sector” is defined as the major cabinet level departments and executive agencies, as well as the National Security Council staff, who implement and execute national security for the United States. The study focuses on the Department of Defense (DoD), the State Department, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Council (NSC), as well as the military services.7 

To establish a clear scope of the study, elected positions are not taken into account, because a number of unique factors are at play in electoral politics in ways that do not necessarily apply to the broader national security community.8 However, the representation of women in the presidency or in Congress is significant in the development of policy and legislation and should be studied further. Women’s roles at national security and defense think tanks and within the corporate aerospace and defense industry also generate thought leadership, technology, and guidance. Further, women play significant roles at such departments and agencies that support the defense and national security apparatus, including the Departmnet of Veterans Affairs. This study does not focus specifically on women in those positions, but it does account for them in some of the broader trends of women in the government.

Methodology

The study makes use of publicly available data on the representation of women in graduate programs, on-ramps to government service (including internships and fellowships), and the national security workforce. Where necessary and/or available, some data was obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Additionally, CNAS researchers conducted interviews with several individuals in the national security sector—men and women alike—over the course of a year. Women who participated in interviews ranged from graduate students in top Security Studies and Public Policy programs; personnel in the military ranging from junior officers through the ranks of flag and general officer; civilians serving on the NSC staff and within the Departments of Defense and State, as well as within intelligence agencies and at USAID; professional staff members on Capitol Hill; and women with prior experience in the government who now serve in private sector, think tank, and academic leadership roles. 

Further, CNAS conducted a survey of those in attendance at the 2016 CNAS Annual Conference. The audience included leaders from the DoD, Department of State, and other areas of the administration; defense industry leaders; national security think tanks; the press; and staff members from Capitol Hill.9

Framing

Existing research has approached the issue of women in government and national security from the perspective of gender equality and inclusion. While intrinsically valuable, the equality and inclusion framework does not necessarily resonate with those in the national security, defense, and military communities—men and women alike. But what does resonate with personnel working in this broad field are clear metrics defining increased effectiveness toward accomplishing the mission.10 

While the impact of women’s representation and performance within the U.S. national security sector remains understudied, the well-established literature on women and peacekeeping and the ever-expanding field of business literature demonstrate that teams, companies, and countries yield vastly different outcomes when women’s representation increases. 

The literature on women, peace, and security has demonstrated markedly different outcomes for conflict negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction when women are involved. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 explicitly calls for “reaffirming the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflict and in peace-building, and stressing the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”11 Women’s participation leads to an increased likelihood that issues of trafficking and sexual violence will be addressed in both the peacekeeping mission and post-conflict negotiations.12 Within the peacekeeping mission, the presence of women also “positively affects aspects of local populations’ interactions and perceptions” pertaining to the operation.13 It has also been noted that gender inequality in a nation leads to a higher likelihood of intrastate conflict,14 which suggests that different outcomes stem from a diversity of inputs.

The business literature indicates that when women’s representation increases within a company, it runs differently; but, more important for companies, those with “higher proportions of women in upper management achieve higher profits . . . profitable firms where women represent 30 percent of leaders saw a 15 percent increase in one measure of gross profit.”15

Beyond examining the different outcomes resulting from more women in the national security sector, there are two very practical reasons to pay attention to workforce composition dynamics, particularly trends in retention. First, women are making up an increasing proportion of the overall workforce. As their numbers rise throughout various departments and agencies, it will become increasingly necessary to focus on the issues impeding their retention. Another reason to study issues facing women—particularly mothers—is that growing numbers of men, especially in the millennial generation, are concerned with work-life balance more than were the generations preceding them. Issues that were once viewed as applying only to women are now driving work-life balance conversations that apply to the entire workforce; men and women alike. 

The Current State of Women in National Security

To understand the current state of women in the national security pipeline, it is useful to examine data on the available pool of women at different stages in their academic and professional careers. For nearly all paths in the national security sector, an undergraduate education is required. Thus, trends in the rates of female undergraduates (the earliest accession point) provide context on the widest pool of eligible women moving forward. Master’s degrees or other advanced education are increasingly required for employment or advancement in the national security sector, and data on women’s enrollment in elite national security, security studies, and public administration programs provide an even more narrowly focused snapshot of the pool of women who have signaled their intent and obtained the requisite education to work in the field. 

While educational data depict the available talent for entry into the national security sector, data on female representation at accession into the field, in the middle ranks, and at the top provide a snapshot of where the field stands at this time. If women enter and stay in the field at the same rates as their male counterparts, or at the same rates as they are represented in graduate programs, then their representation at the top should be proportional. Yet, as of January 2017, they lag behind as a proportion of leadership positions.

A. Education

Undergraduate Women

Between 2001 and 2014, the number of women in undergraduate programs increased continuously, from 722,121 to 1,033,839. This trend is consistent with overall growth in college education for all Americans, as represented by the unvarying percentage of women in undergraduate education (a steady 57 percent). 

Another way to study female representation in the national security education pipeline is to look at service academy representation over time. While more immediately resulting in female representation in the military, the long-term effects of military service, veteran status, and entry into the field of national security are potentially significant.

The figure below shows the representation of women at West Point at the point of admissions from the classes of 2000–2020 (students entering the service academy in July 1996–July 2016).16 Of note, the percentage of women at West Point increased significantly beginning with the class of 2018 (start date: 2014), from an average hovering around 16 percent to a “new normal” of more than 20 percent. This is a result of policy change regarding women in combat, and of new targets that were developed for branch placement for recently commissioned graduates. 

Interestingly, the rise in female cadets at West Point is not the only evolution at the service academy traditionally led by men. Women hold the institution’s two one-star positions, commandant of cadets17 and dean of the academic board,18 for the first time in history. Only the institution’s one three-star position, that of Superintendent LTG Robert Caslen, outranks them. 

Graduate Education

Female representation in graduate schools across the country has grown over the past four decades, whether in law schools, business schools, medical schools, or doctoral programs. This trend is also demonstrated in competitive security studies, public policy, and national security graduate education programs, a prime talent pool for entry and mid-level human capital for the national security sector.

Figure 3 depicts the representation in some of the most competitive national security and public policy programs. The list is certainly not exhaustive, but it includes the top institutions in the field. The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs Master of Arts, Master of International Policy and Practice, and Master of International Studies program has the highest rate of women, as measured by their fall 2015 incoming class at 60 percent. The Harvard Kennedy School Master of Public Administration and Mid-Career Master in Public Administration programs and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Master of International Public Policy program have the lowest rates (Harvard Kennedy School as measured by five-year average, and SAIS as measured by the fall 2015 incoming class) at 35 percent. However, even programs with more modest enrollment still outpace the rate of women who make it to the top in the national security field (nowhere near 35 percent).

B. On-ramps into Government Service

The federal government’s Pathways Programs offer college students and recent graduates from both undergraduate and graduate programs opportunities to gain experience in federal service. Internships are available to students still in school; the recent graduate program is designed for graduates within two years of degree completion; and the Presidential Management Fellows program offers opportunities for individuals with advanced degrees within two years of completion. While these pathways do not necessarily guarantee eventual government employment, they do offer several benefits. First, and particularly relevant for those in national security, these positions involve gaining a clearance, which is a prerequisite for future employment in the sector. Second, many federal jobs are only open to employees currently within the system; internships and fellowships represent an inside track. Third, those with this experience gain invaluable experience and are able to learn the cultures and norms of their selected organization, giving them a leg up in competing for future positions.

The percentage of federal appointments occupied by women through Pathways Program decreased from fiscal year (FY) 2010 to FY 2014 government-wide. Intern appointments remained fairly stable over this timeframe, with the notable exception of the Department of Homeland Security, in which female-occupied positions increased significantly from 32.4 percent to 57.8 percent. This timeframe aligns with overall cuts and hiring freezes across the government in conformance with the Budget Control Act of 2011, which limited overall opportunities, but the cuts should not have affected women disproportionately. 

White House Fellowships

Although it is a particularly narrow program, the White House Fellowship program is a highly competitive opportunity for individuals in the early- to mid-level stages of their careers to enter or return to government service. Fellows are immersed in a year-long, full-time assistantship to senior White House staff, the Office of the Vice President, cabinet secretaries, and other high-level government officials.19 White House fellows include medical doctors, attorneys, military officers, entrepreneurs, private sector professionals, and educators, among others, who bring their unique skills and backgrounds to the federal government. While offering valuable experience and insight into the process of governance, this program also opens tremendous opportunities for participants through the form of mentorship and networks. Many White House fellows return to their fields of origin, but some transition into government service. 

There has been a significant increase in female representation among White House fellows between 2008 and 2016. The average representation of female fellows over the course of that timeframe is 40.9 percent, as opposed to an average of 25.5 percent between 2002 and 2008.20 

C. Full-Time Employment in the National Security Sector

Types of Jobs

There are three broad categories of government service: political, career senior executive, and career civilian/government service. The differentiation allows for political accountability for decisions through political appointments, as well as continuity in governance through career civilian service. Perhaps the most visible positions are political appointments, which include cabinet-level, president-appointed, Senate-confirmable positions such as those of Secretary of State or Defense, Deputy Secretaries, Under Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, and Deputy Assistant Secretaries; as well as senior executive appointments and more junior positions including entry-level in the C Schedule.21 

Another category of employment is the Senior Executive Service (SES), the more “permanent” senior-level career positions. These were established by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 to “ensure that the executive management of the Government of the United States is responsive to the needs, policies, and goals of the Nation and otherwise is of the highest quality.” These individuals serve “just below the top Presidential employees,” providing “the major link between these appointees and the rest of the Federal workforce.”22 

In September 2014, women made up 33.95 percent of the SES workforce (2,649 employees of a total 7,802). While the available data does not break down the number of women by department, it is worth noting that the DoD and the Department of Homeland Security had the first and third largest numbers of SES employees, respectively.23 

Yet another category of employment is the General Schedule (GS) System, which applies to the majority of civilians in “professional, technical, administrative, and clerical positions” throughout the federal government, totaling 1.5 million worldwide.24 In the 20 years between 1992 and 2012, the proportion of men to women in the GS system shifted from 67:33 to a more equitable 55:45.25 Yet with respect to supervisory roles, only 37.8 percent of GS-14 and GS-15 positions are occupied by women.26 This indicates that while women’s representation throughout the GS workforce has increased, they are either leaving government service earlier than their male counterparts, or not being promoted at the same rates. 

While women’s representation throughout the GS workforce has increased, they are either leaving government service earlier than their male counterparts, or not being promoted at the same rates. 

D. Women’s Representation in Departments and Agencies 

Over the course of American history, women have played a role in the national security apparatus (however limited). In the post–World War II era, women’s participation grew. Changes to the overall workforce increased, as did women’s employment throughout the 1960s and 1970s, while gender dynamics changed. The entrance of women to the service academies in 1976 further expanded the roles available to women in the military, and drove a shift in culture that opened the door for their further participation in the national security community. In the post-9/11 era, with a sudden demand for a bigger national security workforce, the nature of opportunities changed. Opportunities and initiatives varied across departments and agencies, including in the CIA, State Department, NSC staff, military, and DoD civilian workforce.

Central Intelligence Agency

During World War II, women served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in diverse roles as spies, cryptographers, and cartographers.27 When the CIA replaced the OSS in 1947, women continued to participate in the new organization at a higher rate than elsewhere in the federal government, or even in the general workforce.28 During the wartime period, women were supposedly more desirable to perform code and map work,29 but by the 1950s they were overwhelmingly assigned to roles such as secretarial or clerical positions.30 A 1953 internal review dubbed the “Petticoat Panel” found that even though women made up 39 percent of the CIA’s workforce, they were drastically underrepresented in the professional and overseas covert branches.31 No woman held a pay grade higher than GS-12, while men held up to GS-15; women were also hired at an average of two grades lower than were men for identical positions.32

Thirty years later, not much had changed. In 1983, women still accounted for 37 percent of the CIA’s staff workforce, but only 23 percent of the professional population and 85 percent of the clerical staff—figures that had remained virtually the same since 1953.33 Only roughly 5 percent held senior GS-15 positions.34 Staff employment of women remained essentially steady, but many were also hired as “contract wives” who accompanied their employee husbands on overseas tours and worked for extremely low pay in roles that were gendered in ways similar to those of the staff.35 

The CIA Glass Ceiling Study in 1992 reported that women remained an underutilized resource at the Agency,36 but since then the proportion of women in senior levels has steadily increased. In 2012, 44 percent of GS-13 through GS-15 CIA employees were women, and they made up 31 percent of Senior Intelligence Services (SIS) officers—a higher percentage in senior executive ranks than the combined average of the other intelligence community agencies.37 Improvements such as those to transparency in the vacancy, assignment, and promotion processes; increased opportunities for employee feedback; policies intended to eliminate harassment; and training in diversity all contributed to the increase.38 Further, more flexible and uniform policies on work-family balance made a career path in the intelligence community more appealing and realistic.39 

Women’s representation as a percentage of the workforce has grown consistently at the CIA, from 35 percent in 1980 to 46 percent in 2012 (see Figure 4).

Perhaps the CIA’s single most visible metric of success stemming from increased gender diversity is the role that female analysts played in the capture of Osama bin Laden. The remarkable focus of the team was reported to have been “influenced by a distinctly female view of security,” with a particularly aggressive view on “the protection of our children” and a perception that women saw “risks differently, longer term.”40

State Department

The State Department has a unique structure in both foreign and civil service, as well as in how its ambassadors and senior appointees are distributed throughout the bureaucracy. 

The first woman was admitted into the Foreign Service in 1922 in the Department of State, but only five more had entered by 1941, and just two of these total six remained permanently.41 Despite the fact that a woman was appointed to the chief of mission position for Denmark and Iceland as early as 1933,42 sexism remained common in personnel evaluations and assignments.43 Indeed, until 1972 women who married while working for the service were required to resign—not by law, but because of State Department custom.44 When they were appointed to ambassador positions, women were more likely to serve in small countries, particularly in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia, and they were only infrequently appointed to positions in countries of high political or economic visibility.45

In 1968, Foreign Service Officer Alison Palmer filed the first equal employment opportunity complaint at the Foreign Service, and in 1976 filed a separate suit against the State Department for “discrimination against women in hiring and promotion.”46 As a result of her successes in both claims, the State Department undertook changes to its personnel practices, eliminating gender-based discrimination in evaluations, assignments, promotions, and hiring.47 Hundreds of women who had been forced out of the service by discriminatory practices or even prevented from being hired in the first place were invited to rejoin or reapply.48 Unfortunately, discriminatory hiring persisted into the 1990s,49 and although hiring and promotion of women in the Foreign Service has continued to rise, even today women remain underrepresented at senior levels.50

Nearly 100 years after the first woman entered the Foreign Service, women hold 54 of the 169 currently occupied chief of mission positions.51 While 42 of those are career Foreign Service officers, many of the ambassadors to politically or economically significant countries such as France and Japan are political appointees.52 

Political Appointees: Departments of State and Defense

Since 2001, the percentage of women in political appointee leadership roles in both the DoD and State Department has increased significantly. The DoD comprises 1 Secretary of Defense, 1 Deputy Secretary of Defense, 5 Under Secretaries of Defense, 5 Principal Deputy Under Secretaries of Defense, and 14 Assistant Secretaries of Defense. For many years women were not represented in any of these positions, but over the past 15 years, one woman has served as the acting Deputy Secretary of Defense (2013–14), and 2 women have held the position of Under Secretary of Defense (2009–12, 2014–15). Women were most greatly represented at the Assistant Secretary levels in 2011 and 2012, when 5 of the 14 positions were occupied by women.

The State Department employs 1 Secretary of State, 2 Deputy Secretaries of State, 6 Under Secretaries of State, and 26 Assistant Secretaries of State. Between 2005 and 2012, two women served as Secretary of State: Condoleezza Rice during the Bush administration; Hillary Clinton during the Obama administration. Every year between 2005 and 2015 except 2008, women represented 50 percent or more of the Under Secretary of State positions. 

The National Security Council Staff

The NSC serves the president as the “main vehicle through which coordination among different U.S. government agencies on national security matters takes place.”53 Statutory members of the NSC include the president, vice president, and Secretaries of State, Defense, and Energy (primarily due to Energy’s role in overseeing the nuclear arsenal). NSC staff members are drawn from various other departments and cover the full range of geographic and functional threats facing national security—including cyber security, violent extremism, weapons of mass destruction, and human rights. Staff positions on the NSC are not Senate confirmed, and many are on detail from the State Department, DoD, and intelligence community. 

Given the employment structure through the departments and agencies, it is difficult to capture data on the gender breakdown in the NSC. Through the end of the Obama Administration, 69 employees worked directly on the NSC payroll, though the size of the staff was around 400. However, notably, the senior-most position on the NSC staff, that of the National Security Advisor, has been held by women twice since 2001. Condoleezza Rice occupied the position during the George W. Bush administration between January 22, 2001, and January 25, 2005. Susan Rice occupied it between July 1, 2013, and January 20, 2017. 

During the Obama administration, Susan Rice’s status at the helm of the NSC contributed to women’s leadership in half of the White House positions at that level.54 In November 2016, three of the 11 members of the NSC and six of the 11 NSC deputy committee members were women. Women of prominence on the NSC included Deputy National Security Advisor Avril D. Haines, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power, Principal Deputy Director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Stephanie O’Sullivan, Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of the Treasury Sarah Bloom Raskin, Deputy Secretary of Energy Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall, Deputy U.S. Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Michele Jeanne Sison, and Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates. 

There are significant debates around limiting the size of the NSC.55 The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act caps the size of the NSC at 200, a nearly 50 percent reduction from its size in November 2016. The limitations do not necessarily portend a downward trend in women’s rates of representation on the NSC. As the next president and National Security Advisor build out the human capital on the more narrowly scoped NSC, a thoughtful consideration of the team will be required to bring diverse perspectives to the table.

The Military

The first official participation for women in the military began with the establishment of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901, and the Navy Nurse Corps in 1908.56 Due to manpower requirements during both world wars that left open many positions traditionally occupied by men, women began to expand into non-combat service as yeomen, mechanics, and pilots.57 After World War II, the Army-Navy Nurses Act of 1947 equalized rank and pay for women and their male counterparts,58 and the 1948 Women’s Armed Services Integration Act opened the door for women to serve in the regular Army during peacetime.59 Still, it took nearly 20 years before most of the gender restrictions in the military—including caps on numbers and limits to career progression—were lifted in 1967.60 Just three years later, Anna Mae Hays was promoted to brigadier general, becoming the first female general officer in the Army.61

Although women were permitted to enter the service academies beginning in 1976,62 they encountered fierce resistance from Congress, the DoD, and other cadets and midshipmen.63 Similar controversy surrounded the decision in 2013 to end the combat exclusion policy, which had previously barred women.64 As of 2016, almost all positions in the military were open to women who could meet the requirements—finally recognizing the modern reality that women were already fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of whether or not they served in combat positions.65 

Despite the obstacles they have faced to participation, women currently make up 15 percent of active duty military members and almost 19 percent of reserve personnel.66 Women account for 19 percent of the Reserve officer corps and 18.7 percent of the enlisted corps in the Reserves.67 While women make up 15 percent of the active duty enlisted members and almost 17 percent of active duty officers,68 they remain underrepresented at the highest ranks--as of 2013, only 69 of 976 general or flag officers were female.69 

In 2008, Ann Dunwoody became the first woman to achieve the highest grade in the military with her promotion to four-star general in the Army.70 Since then, four more women have been promoted to the same grade (GEN Lori Robinson, U.S. Air Force; ADM Michelle Howard, U.S. Navy; Gen Ellen Pawlikowski, U.S. Air Force; and Gen Janet Wolfenbarger, U.S. Air Force).71 

With the exception of the Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserve, women make up a much larger percentage of the Reserve and Guard components for the services than of the active duty component. This is likely for two reasons. First, the Guard and Reserve provide more flexibility to service members, making it easier to manage work-life balance issues including parenthood. This flexibility may make military service in the Guard and Reserve more appealing as a first choice. Second, and perhaps more important, this points to the underlying issue of permeability in military careers. Unlike the situation with many other employers, once an individual leaves active duty military service, whether for the Guard and Reserves or to transition into civilian life, it is very unlikely that the person will be able to return to active duty. Off-ramps are therefore permanent. This is a particular challenge for women as they enter motherhood, because the choice to be with their children past the period of maternity leave amounts to leaving active duty forever. 

Congress authorized the Career Intermission Program (CIP) in 2009 as a pilot program intended to explore whether allowing service members to take a three-year sabbatical for the pursuit of other endeavors such as additional schooling or starting a family could aid in increasing retention. The program was initially slated to run for three years, from 2009 to 2012, but it has since been extended through 2019. The Navy began using the CIP in 2009, with the Marine Corps introducing it in 2013 and the Army and Air Force in 2014.72 

The program has been lauded and extended as part of Secretary Ashton Carter’s Force of the Future reforms, intended to aid in recruiting and retention of the all-volunteer force. In the first tranche of reforms, Secretary Carter called for lifting restrictions on the pilot program, citing the reluctance of service members to participate in an experimental effort and recognizing the need for congressional legislation to reform it.73 Notably, less than half of the authorized CIP slots had been filled by October 2015.74 This may indicate an unwillingness to buck traditional institutional culture, as well as a fear of long-term consequences to career advancement. Because it has been in place for only a short time, there has yet to be a robust evaluation of the CIP’s effects on long-term prospects.

The full report is available online.

Download PDF

Endnotes

  1. Lisa Ferdinando, “Carter Outlines Security Challenges, Warns Against Sequestration,” Defense News, Defense Media Activity, March 17, 2016, http://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/696449/carter-outlines-security-challenges-warns-against-sequestration. 
  2. C. L. Dezsö and D. G. Ross, “Does Female Representation in Top Management Improve Firm Performance? A Panel Data Investigation,” Strategic Management Journal, 33 no. 9 (September 2012), 1072–1089; Michel Landel, “Gender Balance and the Link to Performance,” McKinsey Quarterly, February 2015; Sandrine Devillard, Sandra Sancier-Sultan, and Charlotte Werner, “Why Gender Diversity at the Top Remains a Challenge,” McKinsey Quarterly, April 2014, http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/organization/why_gender_diversity_at_the_top_remains_a_challenge. 
  3. Nora Bensahel, David Barno, Katherine Kidder, and Kelley Sayler, “Battlefields and Boardrooms: Women’s Leadership in the Military and the Private Sector,” (Center for a New American Security, 2015). 
  4. CNN, “By the Numbers, Women in the U.S. Military,” January 24, 2013, http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/24/us/military-women-glance. 
  5. Caroline Fairchild, “Number of Fortune 500 Women CEOs Reaches Historic High,” Fortune.com, June 3, 2014, http://fortune.com/2014/06/03/number- of-fortune-500-women-ceos-reaches-historic-high/; and “Women CEOs of the Fortune 1000.”
  6. Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” The Atlantic (July/August 2012); Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (New York: Knopf Doubleday, 2013); Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know (New York: HarperBusiness, 2014); Anne-Marie Slaughter, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family (New York: Random House, 2015). 
  7. This study includes female service members as part of the broader national security apparatus. For a more detailed study of women in the military, see Bensahel et. al., “Battlefields and Boardrooms.” 
  8. Danny Hayes and Jennifer L. Lawless, Women on the Run: Gender, Media, and Political Campaigns in a Polarized Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016). 
  9.  Survey questions were developed by Heather Hurlburt, Director, New Models of Policy Change at the New America Foundation. 
  10. CNAS survey administered at the 2016 Annual Conference, June 20, 2016.
  11. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, October 31, 2000.
  12. Connie De La Vega and Chelsea E. Haley Nelson, “The Role of Women in Peacekeeping and Peacemaking: Devising Solutions to the Demand Side of Trafficking,” William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law 12 no. 2 (2006), 440. Julia Bleckner, “From Rhetoric to Reality: A Pragmatic Analysis of the Integration of Women in Peacekeeping Operations,” Journal of International Peacekeeping, 17 no. 3-4 (2013).
  13. Dyan Mazurana, “Do Women Matter in Peacekeeping? Women in Police, Military and Civilian Peacekeeping,” Canadian Woman Studies, 22 no. 2 (Fall 2002/Winter 2003), 64.
  14. Mary Caprioli, “Primed for Violence: The Role of Gender Inequality in Predicting Internal Conflict,” International Studies Quarterly (2005) 49, 161. 
  15. Joann S. Lublin, “How Companies Are Different When More Women Are in Power: Higher Numbers of C-Suite Women Can Reshape Attitudes about Careers and Have an Impact on Women and Men throughout the Organizations,” Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-companies-are-different-when-more-women-are-in-power-1474963802; Marcus Noland, Tyler Moran, and Barbara Kotschwar, “Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Survey” (Peterson Institute for International Economics, February 2016). 
  16. The CNAS research team also requested admissions data from the U.S. Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy over the same timeframe. While the data was not available, the trends represented at West Point are consistent with anecdotal evidence from the other service academies. In fact, due to changes in policy in the early 1990s allowing female integration into combat positions in the Navy and Air Force (including as fighter pilots in both services, and surface warfare officers in the Navy), West Point’s rates of women lag behind those of the other service academies.
  17. C. Todd Lopez, “First Female West Point Commandant of Cadets Assumes New Role,” Army.mil, January 5, 2016, https://www.army.mil/article/160553/first_female_west_point_commandant_of_cadets_assumes_new_role. 
  18. Staff report, “Colonel Tapped to Become West Point’s First Female Dean,” Army Times, April 29, 2016, https://www.armytimes.com/story/military/2016/04/29/colonel-tapped-become-west-points-first-female-dean/83715042/. 
  19. “White House Fellows: About the Fellowship,” WhiteHouse.gov, https://www.whitehouse.gov/participate/fellows/about. 
  20. “White House Fellows,” WhiteHouse.gov, https://www.whitehouse.gov/participate/fellows. 
  21. Schedule C appointees serve in confidential or policy roles, ranging from schedulers to policy experts. They do not require Senate confirmation. Zach Piaker, “Help Wanted: 4,000 Presidential Appointees,” Partnership for Public Service Center for Presidential Transition, March 16, 2016, http://presidentialtransition.org/blog/posts/160316_help-wanted-4000-appointees.php. 
  22. U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), “Senior Executive Service,” https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/senior-executive-service/.
  23. OPM, “Senior Executive Service: Facts and Figures,” https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/senior-executive-service/facts-figures/#url=Demographics. 
  24. OPM, “General Schedule Overview,” https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/pay-systems/general-schedule/. 
  25. OPM, “Governmentwide Strategy on Advancing Pay Equality in the Federal Government,” April 2014, https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/reference-materials/reports/governmentwide-strategy-on-advancing-pay-equality-in-the-federal-government.pdf.
  26. Hannah Moss, “25 Stats about Women in Government,” GovLoop.com, January 21, 2015, https://www.govloop.com/26-stats-women-goverment/. 
  27. Tasneem Raja, “The Secret History of CIA Women,” Mother Jones, November 4, 2013, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/10/women-cia-history-sexism; interview by Barbara Matusow with Adelaide Hawkins, Veterans History Project, in Arlington, VA, July 29, 2003.
  28. In 1952, women constituted 39 percent of the CIA workforce, compared with 25 percent of the general federal government and 30 percent of the general workforce population. Central Intelligence Agency, “CIA Women Employees Compared with Other Women Employee Populations,” 1953, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/2003-03-01.pdf. 
  29. Raja, “The Secret History of CIA Women,” note 17.
  30. CIA, “Panel on Career Service for Women to the CIA Career Service Board,” 1953, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/2003-03-01.pdf.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Memorandum from John N. McMahon, CIA Deputy Director, December 19, 1983, http://www.foia.cia.gov/sites/default/files/document_conversions/1820853/1983-12-15.pdf. 
  34. Ibid.
  35. In 1973, contract wives were almost all hired at GS-3. Panel at the CIA, “Divine Secrets of the RYBAT Sisterhood: Four Senior Women of the Directorate of Operations Discuss Their Careers,” January 8, 1994, 3, 6, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/1992-08-10.pdf.
  36. CIA, “Implementation of the Glass Ceiling Study: Intelligence Excellence Through Diversity,” August 10, 1992, http://www.foia.cia.gov/sites/default/files/document_conversions/1820853/1992-08-10.pdf. 
  37. CIA, “Director’s Advisory Group on Women in Leadership,” 2013. https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/CIA_Women_In_Leadership_March2013.pdf. 
  38. CIA, “Implementation of the Glass Ceiling Study.” 
  39. Ibid, Appendix D, 1.
  40. “Hunting Osama bin Laden Was Women’s Work,” NBCNews.com, November 14, 2013, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/other/hunting-osama-bin-laden-was-womens-work-f2D11594091; Maureen Dowd, “Good Riddance, Carrie Mathison,” The New York Times, April 4, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/maureen-dowd-good-riddance-carrie-mathison.html?_r=0.
  41. Nicholas J. Willis, “FS Personnel Evaluation, 1925–1955: A Unique View,” Foreign Service Journal, March 2016, http://www.afsa.org/fs-personnel-evaluation-1925-1955-unique-view.
  42. Department of State Bureau of Resource Management, Women in Diplomacy: FY 2005 Performance and Accountability Report, November 2005. 
  43. For example, a 1946 special rating-sheet evaluation for Frances Willis, the third woman admitted into the Foreign Service and the first career diplomat chief of mission, stated that her recent promotion to “Class III was high enough for her ‘because of her sex.’” Willis, in CIA, “Panel on Career Service for Women.” 
  44. Elinor Constable, “Show Me the Law…!” Foreign Service Journal, March 2016, http://www.afsa.org/challenging-tradition; Phyllis Oakley, “It Was the Early 1970s, and America Was Changing” Foreign Service Journal, March 2016, http://www.afsa.org/challenging-tradition; “The Palmer Case and the Changing Role of Women in the Foreign Service,” Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, http://adst.org/the-stump/the-palmer-case-and-the-changing-role-of-women-in-the-foreign-service.
  45. Ann Wright, “For the Record: Breaking Through Diplomacy’s Glass Ceiling,” Foreign Service Journal, October 2005, 53; 56–57. 
  46. Andrea Strano, “Foreign Service Women Today: The Palmer Case and Beyond,” Foreign Service Journal, March 2016, http://www.afsa.org/foreign-service-women-today-palmer-case-and-beyond; “Under Pressure, State Department Moves to End Its Sex Discrimination,” The New York Times, April 21, 1989, http://www.nytimes.com/1989/04/21/us/under-pressure-state-department-moves-to-end-its-sex-discrimination.html.
  47. Strano, “Divine Secrets of the RYBAT Sisterhood.” 
  48. Ibid.; Elinor Constable, “Show Me the Law…!”; Oakley, “It Was the Early 1970s, and America Was Changing.”
  49. Strano, “Divine Secrets of the RYBAT Sisterhood.”
  50. It took until 2005 for the proportion of women in the Senior Foreign Service to reach 30 percent, and even then, women made up 40 percent of the Foreign Service generalist corps. Margot Carrington, “How Are FS Women at State Faring?” Foreign Service Journal, May 2013, 39. https://www.afsa.org/sites/default/files/flipping_book/0513/files/assets/seo/page39.html.
  51. “Chiefs of Mission Listed by Country or Organization,” Department of State, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/title/com. 
  52. Ibid.
  53. Kathleen J. McInnis, “‘Right-Sizing’ the National Security Council Staff?” (Congressional Research Service, June 30, 2016), https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/IN10521.pdf.
  54. Juliet Eilperin, “White House Women Want to Be in the Room Where It Happens,” The Washington Post, September 13, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/09/13/white-house-women-are-now-in-the-room-where-it-happens/?utm_term=.655d19eb5190. 
  55. Aaron Mehta, “NDAA Installs Major Structural Reforms to Pentagon, Defense News, November 30, 2016, http://www.defensenews.com/articles/ndaa-installs-major-structural-reforms-to-pentagon. 
  56. “Highlights in the History of Military Women,” Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation, http://www.womensmemorial.org/Education/timeline.html. 
  57. Ibid.
  58. U.S. House of Representatives, Army-Navy Medical Services Corps Act of 1947, H.R. 3215, 61 Stat. 734 (1947) (eliminated).
  59. Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948, 62 Stat. 356 (1948) (eliminated).
  60. “Highlights in the History of Military Women.”
  61. U.S. Army, Historical Resources Branch, “First Female General in the U.S. Army,” May 7, 2015, http://www.history.army.mil/faq/FAQ-FemGO.htm. 
  62. History Archive: Women Enter the Military Academies, Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, http://www.womensmemorial.org/history/detail/?s=women-enter-the-military-academies. 
  63. Kelly Schloesser, “The First Women of West Point,” U.S. Army, October 27, 2010, http://www.army.mil/article/47238.
  64. Larry Abramson, “Women in Combat: Obstacles Remain as Exclusion Policy Ends,” National Public Radio, May 15, 2013, http://www.npr.org/2013/05/15/184042652/women-in-combat-obstacles-remain-as-exclusion-policy-ends.
  65. Elizabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker, “Pentagon Is Set to Lift Combat Ban for Women,” The New York Times, January 23, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/24/us/pentagon-says-it-is-lifting-ban-on-women-in-combat.html.
  66. Department of Defense, “2014 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community,” 2014, 18, 66. http://download.militaryonesource.mil/12038/MOS/Reports/2014-Demographics-Report.pdf. 
  67. Department of Defense, “2014 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community,” 66-67.
  68. Ibid, 18-19. 
  69. By the Numbers: Women in the U.S. Military, CNN (January 24, 2013). 
  70. Miriam Krieger and Michael O’Hanlon, “The Arrival of the Female Four-Stars,” The National Interest, October 6, 2014, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-arrival-the-female-four-stars-11407. 
  71. Ibid; Carlin Leslie, “Women’s AF History Expands with New Four-Star,” U.S. Air Force, news, June 2, 2015, http://www.af.mil/News/ArticleDisplay/tabid/223/Article/590267/womens-af-history-expands-with-new-four-star.aspx. 
  72. Government Accountability Office, DOD Should Develop a Plan to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Its Career Intermission Pilot Program, GAO-16-35 (October 2015), http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/673360.pdf.
  73. Department of Defense, “Fact Sheet: Building the First Link to the Force of the Future,” November 18, 2015, http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/2015/0315_force-of-the-future/documents/FotF_Fact_Sheet_-_FINAL_11.18.pdf.
  74.  Government Accountability Office, DOD Should Develop a Plan to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Its Career Intermission Pilot Program.
  • Katherine Kidder

    Fellow, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

    Katherine Kidder is a Fellow in the Military, Veterans, and Society Program and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). She leads the CNAS Rebuilding the Bipartisan Def...

  • Amy Schafer

  • Phillip Carter

    Senior Fellow and Director, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

    Phillip Carter is Senior Fellow and Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security.  His research focuses on issues facing v...

  • Andrew Swick

    Research Associate, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

    Andrew Swick is a Research Associate with the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), where he focuses on civil-military rela...

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia