Closing the Gender Gap in Foreign Policy—One Byline at a Time

A review of foreign policy op-eds by Foreign Policy Interrupted (FPI), an organization dedicated to combating the gender disparity in the field, found that women’s voices remain largely absent in major media conversations about critical issues of peace and security. According to their analysis, only 15 percent of 3,758 articles in the largest newspapers in the U.S. about foreign policy from the last three years had women’s names in the bylines.

“The FPI review shows that the share of women’s bylines has increased by as much as seven percentage points per decade,” report authors Elmira Bayrasli and Elizabeth Radin wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review. “At that rate, we won’t approach parity until 2056, a full professional generation from now.” Without major changes, an echo chamber in the realm of foreign policy will persist until then, with the same men serving as both sources and authors.

This echo chamber doesn’t just reverberate within the world of media. It plagues the entire foreign policy field—and holds women back at every level. Women hold only 29 percent of leadership positions in D.C.’s foreign policy think tanks and only 21 percent of policy-related positions.

Noor Mir at a rally against Trump’s Muslim Ban sponsored by Freedom Muslim American Women’s Policy. (Lorie Shaull / Creative Commons)

“In the foreign policy world, who you know can trump what you know,” foreign policy expert Isobel Coleman explained in The Atlantic, calling out the ‘old boy network’ in her own field. “Getting invited to speak on this panel, or attend that meeting, or serve on that committee—these decisions reflect one’s network as much as anything, and they are self-reinforcing.”

In foreign policy matters, having a diversity of voices at the table is critical. Aside from a matter of principle, closing the gender gap in foreign policy media and leadership is also a pivotal part of ensuring continued success. “Due to a preponderance of men in senior positions at think tanks, they engage in an unconscious cronyism in hiring other men as research fellows or selecting them as participants at workshops,” foreign policy veteran Micah Zenko explained in Foreign Policy. “This imbalance, which deprives the foreign-policy community of much-needed expertise, is detrimental to the U.S. role in world affairs.”

How do we reckon with a field that has become so entrenched in patriarchal values? To start, those in positions of power must recognize the reach they have and their ability to broaden the scope of the discussions within foreign policy. Representation within the field will inspire more women and people of color to take the reins in a historically white, male-dominated space.

Men, in the meantime, must make space for them—and do all they can to equip them for success. “The key to continuing this upward trend is mentoring and training,” Lisa Curtis told The Atlantic. “With an increasingly globalized and complex world demanding creative and varied solutions, there will be more and more opportunities and indeed—requirements—for women to sit at the foreign policy decision-making table.


Rosalind Jones is a writer and global feminist thinker with a focus on international women's liberation. Her goal is to use her writing and language skills to elevate the voices of gender equality advocates in all corners of the world. She is an Occidental College graduate with a degree Diplomacy and World Affairs and a contributor to Ms.