In recent years women have surged to the top of the national security establishment, bringing important new perspectives and problem-solving abilities to a critically important policy arena. That was the broad conclusion of a panel discussion at Newsweek & The Daily Beast’s Women in the World Summit on Friday.
The panel itself was a testament to the increasingly influential role women play in national security—and not just in the U.S. Participating in the discussion, moderated by Sir Harry Evans, were Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; former congresswoman Jane Harman, who now is president and CEO of the Wilson Center in Washington (and part owner of The Newsweek Daily Beast Company); D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier; and Atifete Jahjaga, the president of Kosovo.
“Everyone leads with priorities or insights that are guided in part by your own life experiences,” said Napolitano. “Qualifications are qualifications, you either have them or you don’t, and it should be irrespective being a man or a woman.” For Napolitano, the first women to head Homeland Security, that translates into how she develops priorities at DHS. She cited her department’s focus on the “global scourge” of sex trafficking as an example.
Harman was more explicit about the unique qualification women bring to bear on national security: “Women are lionesses in terms of protecting our families,” she said. They have a “fierce instinct to protect.” Harman also emphasized the common sense approach women take to national security. “We go to war less,” she said, bluntly. “We try to resolve problems.”
Despite the fact that women increasingly hold senior posts in law enforcement, intelligence and foreign affairs (in the Obama administration the secretary of state, secretary of Homeland Security and UN ambassador are all women), they remain proportionately underrepresented in national security jobs. All of the panelists agreed that if they are to continue to occupy the most high-profile and influential positions, they will have to have broader access to key posts throughout the government.