Last week Boulder and more specifically the University of Colorado Boulder hosted the Conference on World Affairs (CWA). The CWA is an annual conference in April featuring 200 panels of varying topics over five days. One notable panel was Women in National Security held in the Gold Biosciences building, Friday April 14th.
Before the panel began, some hoped the talk would be “inspirational and adversarial, to show that a woman can take an authoritative position in such a patriarchal world,” said Jon S. a CU advertising sophomore.
With high expectations, the speakers arrived. The moderator Ginny Corsi sat on stage left, with the speakers Janet Breslin-Smith, Joe Cirincione, and finally Heather Hurlburt in secession.
Ginny Corsi began the session “If any of you read the daily news today, you all know hell’s a poppin’.” Speaking to a room of fifty spectators, only four were men.
Mrs. Corsi has a passion for the CWA but is optimistic for a future where the title “women in…” any subject will be a non-event, that the situation of women being in any field will be normalized.
She has worked in conflict resolution, and has years of experience in the women’s movement as well as “just being a woman”. After a background anecdote, she officially starts the panel off with a simple question:
“When talking about Women in National Security, what difference does it make?”
Janet Breslin-Smith chimes in with an overview on her life in National Security work. It all started in 1958, Smith was in the 5th grade. She recalls reading The Ugly American by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick. Not unlike Homer Atkins, the main character, she realized she wanted to be in embassies negotiating with people.
She believed at the time the way to achieving her goal was to marry an ambassador. Thus, Mrs. Smith attended the University of Southern California in search for her ambassador.
Once there, Mrs. Smith had an eye-opening conversation with an advisor, she didn’t have to interview her peers for potential husband/ambassador candidates. She herself could fulfill that role. Mrs. Smith went on to be the 1st department head at the War College, maintained a leadership role in the U.S. Senate and eventually the president of Crosswinds Strategic Consulting.
During her time at the War College, she directed a program to include women. They had weekly group meetings as a support system for their challenges heading into a male-dominated field. After five to six years Mrs. Smith saw a change in dynamics, no longer were the women at the War College open to being a part of a supportive community. They saw it as an offensive idea against the equality they were trying to achieve.
This leads to a great question that polarizes the feminist community; How do we as women balance our careers, children, elders, and ourselves? Do women need a support system?
“I am surrounded by strong women. I am surrounded by strong women every day.” Joe Cirincione announced.
This 67 year old man is the president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation and previously a member of Secretary of State John Kerry’s International Security Advisory board. He is currently heading an initiative with the foundation to raise $500,000 for grants to promote women in national security, however he and his team are still unsure of how to award such grants.
Heather Hurlburt, former executive director of the National Security Network noted that the first steps to figuring out what these women need, is to ask them. Referring to the Center for New American Security Study from 2015: Battlefields and Boardrooms. Before this study, no one had polled about gender in national security.
The study concluded that the situation of women in national security was worse than they had expected. Mrs. Hurlburt agreed, she has countless stories of her past in National Security work where she was hired and not for her ability. One boss went so far to tell her, “You got hired because you’re young and pretty, and you’re not that pretty.”
Two female Boulder high school students asked the panel “Why [do they think] has the lower education system considered promoting these types of jobs to students?”
Mrs. Smith was the first to reply, “Traditionally our history is war, war is traditionally fought by men, men are the ones who have thus far dominated the historical writing.” Despite her personally seeing a strong female in Chile rise from minister of health, to minister of defense, eventually to serving as the Chilean president (Michelle Bachelet).
Mrs. Hurlburt replied that the US’s increasing leaning on National Security to show our power lessens the ability for the population to see women in those positions.
Despite the obstacles women face, there is some that are gaining headway. New Hampshire has become the first and only state to send an all-female delegation to Congress.
Mr. Cirincione closed the panel with a take-home thought, “In order to progress, you have to be at the table. Make sure you all sit at the table.”