Joe Biden has pledged to change the landscape of the overwhelmingly white male-dominated world of national security. When Biden takes the oath of office on January 20, 2021, he will become the first president to have pledged to pursue gender parity in senior national security and foreign policy government positions.
“Our time is now. And, of course, overdue, but certainly now,” said Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, the co-chair and founder of the Leadership Council for Women in National Security (LCWINS) and a former ambassador to Malta.
Abercrombie-Winstanley is among a group of women leaders who have worked at the State and Defense Departments and within the intelligence community who launched LCWINS in 2019, beginning with a pledge to pursue gender parity, nominate women to senior roles that have never before been filled by a woman, and ensure that women of color are well-represented in senior ranks. Biden has already begun living up to his pledge, in forming the agency review teams tasked with facilitating the transition: Both the State and Defense Department teams are majority female, and both are women-led.
While LCWINS is nonpartisan, many of the women on its masthead held leadership positions in President Barack Obama’s administration. They formed the organization in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the record-setting number of women who ran for and won seats in Congress in 2018. The group’s founders, seeking more equitable representation within their own field, organized in order to “provide the public leadership and specific benchmarks to improve gender diversity and fight unconscious bias” in national security, according to their mission statement.
The election of Donald Trump, Abercrombie-Winstanley said, helped galvanize them.
Eighteen Democratic presidential candidates, including Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, who later dropped out of the race and then became Biden’s running mate, signed the group’s gender parity pledge.
President Donald Trump did not sign the pledge.
A 2018 study by the New America Foundation found that women made up less than 40 percent of the Trump administration’s senior State Department leadership, and less than 30 percent at the Department of Defense. Women were slightly better represented in those departments during the same period of the Obama administration, but the numbers were still lopsided.
The gender imbalance in national security, which includes foreign policy, defense and intelligence, has long favored men. Those looking to Biden to prioritize gender parity are not inclined to give him a pass simply because things in the White House were marginally more equal the last time he was there.
President Trump had a total of seven women serving in 23 Senate-confirmed Cabinet or Cabinet level positions over the course of his administration, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. The first term of the Obama administration saw eight women in those same 23 positions.
Those who support gender parity as a critical administration goal want it not simply as a talking point for organizations. Rather, they believe that more diversity, not just in terms of gender identity but also race, sexual