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The Gender Divide in Foreign Policy Agencies: Analyzing the “Her Power Index”

A few days ago, we came across a study that struck our attention. As students both studying internationally-oriented fields (International Business and International Affairs), the findings of the “Her Power Index” study were particularly concerning, and we felt the need to share with other GW women pursuing careers in IA or otherwise. 

The gender-gap in most career paths has historically been a very hot topic. FP (Foreign Policy) Analytics, the independent research division of The Foreign Policy Group, has conducted an extensive study on the lack of women in our government divisions in foreign policy called the “Her Power Index”. The Index assesses representation of women across 15 key U.S. foreign-policy agencies over the last decade: spanning defense, international development, trade and investment, diplomacy, and national security. In their report, FP Analytics noted, “as of 2018 women account for one-third of the U.S. government’s foreign-policy staff, significantly less than their share of the country’s total workforce (47%).” 


How It Works/Results

Based on data collected from the FedScope and research collected through focus groups, the HPI measures gender parity in agencies across the government on a scale of zero to ten. The objective of the Index is to increase attention and awareness to expose the gaping gender parity that exists within the U.S. government. These agencies were ranked based on four factors: employment, advancement, leadership, and retention. Agencies pertaining to development, diplomacy, and economics ranked highest, while the lowest on the spectrum were all military related agencies. Even at the best performing agency, USAID, women are still significantly underrepresented amongst top leadership. 

Despite women accounting for 56% of graduates with degrees in International Relations, their presence in each of these agencies does not seem to match. The clear passion and drive that women have for careers in foriegn policy is obvious, but once women enter into the field, something seems to be holding them back from progressing further in their careers. 


While the study concluded many interesting findings, we wanted to share a few of note: 

  1. The US is the only country out of the 36 countries within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that does not offer paid parental leave. Women make up 60% of US caregivers but FP jobs require women to be available and on call all-day and require a level of flexibility that many women struggle to offer. 

  2. The most severe gap between men and women throughout these agencies was found in top leadership positions. In the pentagon, only 17% of senior officials are women. As well as in the State Department, only 44 out of 189 ambassador positions are currently granted to women. This lack of women in leadership positions only contributes to a vicious cycle, with young women aspiring for careers in foreign policy being left without role models to look up to. Across these focus groups, women emphasized the importance of having a role model and the tremendous positive impact this can have on a career development. 

  3.  Sexual harassment has historically been a problem for women in the work place and chronically underreported. A high-profile example of this shift came in 2017 with the publication of the #MeTooNatSec letter, signed by 223 senior women in the foreign-policy space, describing an atmosphere where abuse and assault are still common. Many businesses have been making the switch of hiring outside HR firms to eliminate the bias that exists when representing employees filing complaints. Unfortunately, the government has yet to see value in implementing these practices and still uses representation within their agencies to defend the very people filing complaints against them. Unfair? We think so too. 


Now that this data has been brought to light, agencies have an opportunity to act. This severe underrepresentation of women is leaving a key talent pool untapped and in the face of an extremely fragile international climate, these agencies need the perspectives and skill sets that women can bring to the table in tackling these global challenges. The US hopes to be a leader in bridging the gender gap across all industries but how can we successfully accomplish and promote this idea around the world if our policy makers don’t make the same efforts they preach? 


Isabella grew up in Boston and is currently a student at The George Washington University studying International Business and Chinese. Her dream job is working as a journalist in New York, and she hopes to travel all over the world and study abroad in Shanghai. You can find her taking walks with her three Labradoodles or doing yoga with friends.
Kate grew up in New Jersey and is currently a student at the George Washington University studying International Affairs. Her dream job is to be a foreign correspondent in the Middle East. You can find her doing yoga or on the beach in New Jersey with a large iced coffee.
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