GMF Hosts Think Tank Diversity Consortium’s Inaugural Event: Women’s Advancement in the Think Tank Sector
Given GMF’s commitment to women’s advancement in the think tank sector on both sides of the Atlantic, the Office of Transatlantic Leadership Initiatives organized a warmly received discussion on June 27 with colleagues from the ten founding member organizations of the Think Tank Diversity Consortium. Attendees included human resource directors and policy experts, as well as rising young leaders and Marshall Memorial Fellowship alumni. The discussion aimed to delineate where women currently stand in the think tank sector; share best practices for women’s advancement; learn from the leadership journey of a woman think tank leader; posit how research by and about women is critical to the sector; and envision next steps. An initiative in Europe in the same spirit is underway through GMF’s Brussels Office.
Zarina Durrani, Coordinator of the Think Tank Diversity Consortium Operations, chaired the event. GMF took the opportunity to highlight some successes in terms of advancing women leaders through a video welcome from GMF President Karen Donfried and a presentation by Megan Doherty regarding GMF’s research findings on the current status of women within the Think Tank Diversity Consortium.
A lively best practices exchange regarding mentors and affinity groups followed, opened by Chelsea Wagenbrenner and Sarah Whitfield of the Brookings Institution, who shared the remarkable efforts Brookings is putting forward through its Women’s Mentoring Network, which organizes high level speaker events as well as informal networking and structured mentor relationships. The WMN is a grassroots organization funded by the Brookings President’s Special Initiative Fund. It consists of over 200 members of both genders and includes senior and junior staff, with the goal of fostering networking opportunities and building strategies for career progression. GMF introduced its recently founded women’s affinity group. Lisa Zhu of Aspen Institute noted that with around 70% women staff members, the optic is different, but Aspen has found it effective to put in place a mentor program matching junior and senior staff. Aspen pays for the first lunch together of each mentor-mentee pairing. Kawanna Jenkins of the UN Foundation noted that the CEO of the organization has started office hours for anyone who seeks a one-on-one opportunity for discussion, and several people have taken the initiative to use this time to seek career advice. She has also charged the staff with identifying women who could potentially serve on the UN Foundation’s board.
Katherine McGrady, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of CNA Corporation, shared insights drawn from her own leadership journey. She encouraged women to step out of their comfort zone and seek mentors who will tell them not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear, in terms of advancement. She described her experience when embedded with the Marine Corps in Somalia and noted that with so much work to be done, mission focus serves as an equalizer. At the institutional level, she raised the issue of how dissonance diminishes trust when an organization expresses verbal commitment to diversity but its actions are contradictory. She made a call for action that match words and objective data based analysis of how diverse groups are faring within an organization. She also called for a focus on diversity in all of its dimensions.
On the topic of research, Senior Vice President Margery Austin Turner of The Urban Institute reflected that research by and about women leads to better informed policy recommendations, grounded in both qualitative and quantitative research. Citing an example, she noted that Urban Institute is focused on the domestic agenda and that the presence and power of women within the institution has helped to elevate issues such as challenges for single mothers in poverty to be on a par with such topics as health and tax policies. The ability to research issues related to women in society proves to be transformational in discussions of the broader policy agenda. Noting that Urban Institute has a woman at the helm, she reflected on the importance of the collaborative style and how it helps organizations engaged in intellectual endeavors. Urban’s work is team based with shifting teams and without a static hierarchy, and operates in a fluid, flat and respectful way. At the internal level, she noted the importance of well-managed flex time, and engaging staff to identify and implement solutions for the problems that they raise. Alexandra Gilkey of the Council on Foreign Relations also shared CFR’s work in revealing how foreign policy decisions impact women on the ground in areas such as child marriage and reproductive health. CFR’s approach is to put a human face on women’s resilience and to advocate for effective policies related to women’s rights, particularly in areas of conflict and post conflict such as in Afghanistan.
At the close, GMF Senior Fellow Lora Berg led the group in a brainstorming session on next steps. Some attendees plan to bring best practice models that were discussed to their own think tanks, and to their own careers. Noting that Google has just come forward to share its diversity statistics (heavily skewed toward white and Asian male) with the statement that it is better to put the information out in the public rather than hide it in order to find solutions, discussants agreed that think tanks will also benefit from collecting and sharing their diversity profiles. A recurring note during the meeting was the importance of addressing the advancement of racial and ethnic minorities in think tanks as well as individuals with different socioeconomic and regional backgrounds to enrich diversity and strengthen problem solving. MMF alumna Marcia Chatelain of, Assistant Professor at Georgetown University, offered to connect think tank leaders to the new generation of minority scholars, noting that Ph.D. programs have become very effective in the recruitment and advancement of minority scholars who are now looking for the right match for their careers. Participants also emphasized taking a more proactive role in recommending qualified women to serve on think tank boards. With new connections made and knowledge gained this inaugural event of the Think Tank Diversity Consortium hosted by GMF met its goal of sharing best practices for women’s advancement in the Think Tank Sector.
“I was so inspired by the women who attended and heartened by their commitment to increasing diversity in all its forms in the think tank/higher education sector.”
“The event was wonderful and I truly learned a lot… I look forward to learning more about the think tank sector and observing the process of expanding not only the inclusivity of women, but women of color in this area.”
“So wonderful to be surrounded by a group of very bright women who are excited about their careers and just asking to be respected and promoted based on their work. I think we can all relate to that.”