The Power of Example
When I chose a career in foreign policy and national security, I never considered the fact that I was entering a historically male-dominated profession. In a purely abstract way I was keenly aware of the continued gender imbalance among decisionmakers who influence national security, but I never thought about my own gendered role in that field, or that anyone might see me as a woman in national security. I was simply a young, driven woman who entered the State Department in the good company of many other young, driven women.
But I soon noticed a common response when I first met my male foreign counterparts, usually along the lines of: “You’re a woman, and you look so young – you must be very smart.”
Comments like these reflected that my male interlocutors were still not accustomed to encountering women in professional settings, especially ones dealing with foreign policy and national security. And of course, they thought they were paying me a compliment.