CIA Director Gina Haspel arrives for a briefing with members of the US House of Representatives about the situation with Iran on January 8, 2020. Photo: AFP / Drew Angerer / Getty Images

In late July, the world’s largest IT security non-profit organization, (ISC)², published its survey on women in cybersecurity. The study says that women working in this field are paid 21% less than men globally.

In North America, men earn an average of about US$16,000 more than their female colleagues, while in Europe, the difference amounts to as much as $26,000. On top of that, more than 22% of female professionals said they had faced discrimination during their careers. 

These findings are a further sign that there is still a lot of work to do to advance women’s empowerment in the security field. Women remain grossly under-represented throughout this sector, both nationally and internationally. In United Nations peacekeeping missions, for instance, women constitute only 4.7% of military contingents and 10.8% of formed police units. 

Lauren Buitta, founder and chief executive of Girl Security, an organization that works on empowering women in national security, has shared her vision of what we can do to promote women in this field.

“I think the most effective measures are engaging girls sooner in a discussion about security, given that girls are agents of their security every day through adulthood. Additional measures include highlighting visible women role models across the security sectors, both uniformed and non-uniformed, as well as active and intentional mentoring for early-career women in the security sectors,” Buitta told this writer. 

“Additionally, to ensure fewer points of attrition, policies that reflect the experiences of women as well as other marginalized populations must be integrated into the workforce. For example, equal pay, promotion structures, and more flexible policies for parents/caregivers.

“Lastly, I would emphasize that until societies genuinely value the security of girls and women and until that value is reflected in the institutions responsible for security policy, strategy, and decision making, we do our nations a disservice in forgoing the important contributions of girls and women,” she said.

Female role models

The good news is that there are legions of women all over the world who are determined to take this stronghold. Their future successes will ultimately destroy the already-tattered myth that security is doomed to be male-dominated. And yes, we have lots of female role models right now. Even though women are poorly represented in this field today, we increasingly witness examples of successful female professionals.

In South Africa, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has been serving as minister of defense for eight years following her years-long career in the Department of Home Affairs. Not only did she manage to take up a senior position in the government, she also contributed to the women’s cause while secretary general of the African National Congress Women’s League. 

Her German counterpart, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, came from the world of politics. Before her appointment as federal minister of defense, Kramp-Karrenbauer was elected leader of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany. She became the second female party leader after Angela Merkel. She joined the party while in high school and since then has managed to reach great heights.  

No less progress has been made by women in the intelligence fields. Last year, Australia got its first female intelligence chief. Rachel Noble, a woman with vast experience in national and cyber security, was appointed to head the country’s major spy agency responsible for cyberwarfare, the Australian Signals Directorate. As Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison put it, her appointment is a “significant step forward for women in the national-security sector.”

In the US, Gina Haspel has been serving as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the world’s most powerful intelligence organization, for two years now. Haspel joined the agency in 1985 and after more than 30 years of dedicated work, she became the first female director of the CIA in history.

Another veteran of the agency, Beth Kimber, has become the first woman to lead its Directorate of Operations, the national clandestine service. One of the CIA’s top deputy positions is held by Sonya Holt, who was recruited out of high school, grew up in the agency, and now is responsible for promoting a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Why women are the best fit

The last thing I want to do is to reflect on why “women are no worse than men.” Let’s abandon this flawed approach and, instead, elaborate on the advantages of having women in security positions.

Many areas of security, especially peace negotiations, require good communication skills and the ability to build trust. Academic research shows that men and women differ psychologically in the way they communicate and attempt to influence others. 

While men tend to use communication to dominate or achieve certain outcomes, for women, language is a tool to create relationships or improve social connections. Generally, women are more emotional, speak more politely, and interrupt less than men do, which makes them perfect negotiators. Also, females in senior positions prefer a relationship-oriented leadership approach and assume more of a caretaker role. 

Another study says that with women’s involvement in a peace process, the resulting agreement is 35% more likely to last at least 15 years. Despite this fact, female negotiators have been rarely involved in major peace processes for the past decades. According to UN Women, “between 1992 and 2018, women constituted 13% of negotiators, 3% of mediators and only 4% of signatories in major peace processes.” 

Changes are much needed and we have a great initiative right now. In late July, there was a high-level discussion on the role of Afghan women in the upcoming intra-Afghan peace talks. The event was hosted by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and Cordaid, one of the biggest international development organizations.

The participants called for officials to ensure that Afghan women are engaged in the negotiations with the Taliban at every stage of the peace process. As former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright rightly pointed out, “Women need to be a party to the negotiation, not just an issue to be discussed.”

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Tatiana Kanunnikova

Russian journalist Tatiana Kanunnikova is a graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Affairs.