Promoting a Diverse Perspective on Nuclear Security and Nonproliferation

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By Mama Sonko Sow, Hudson Institute, July 1, 2018

On June 18, 2018, the Hudson Institute and the Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS) hosted a discussion on the value of having diverse perspectives on issues of nuclear policy and nonproliferation and ways to overcome challenges in the effort to bring more people of color into the field.

WCAPS, a platform for women of color to cultivate strong voices and networks in the national security space, is led by Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins. In addition to being the Founder and President of WCAPS, she is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. (DOS) From 2009 – 2017, she was an Ambassador at the U.S. Department of State, where she served as Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. For more information on Women of Color Advancing Peace, and Security and Conflict Transformation, please visit https://www.wcaps.org.

In addition to self-promotion, women and people of color described various forms of encouragement as a key to advancement in the security and nonproliferation field. In a society where women are often socialized to not speak up or be aggressive in the workplace, many described having to step out of that norm in order to advance their careers. It was also clear that having women of color in senior positions can provide mentorship to others, in addition to serving as a positive representation of future possibilities for others. In recognizing that people of color have always played a critical role in security, their participation in this field remains important in the advancement of research and practice in national security and nonproliferation.

The meeting brought together participants from the government, think tank, and fundraising sectors. Notable speakers included Brian Finlay, president and CEO of the Stimson Center, Richard Weitz, director and senior fellow of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute, and Michele Dash-Pauls, deputy director of the Office of Nuclear Export Controls at the  National Nuclear Security Administration of the Department of Energy (DOE/NNSA).

A common theme emerged across the panels: diversity in the workplace facilitates innovation, improves productivity, and generates ideas that are more sustainable. Yet, the speakers also identified challenges to achieving diversity:

Clear Organizational Priorities

In the nuclear security and nonproliferation fields, diversity is not always on the top of agency or funding priorities. In cases where diversity managed to stay relevant, the leadership made incorporating diverse voices an important benchmark to reach. In the absence of leadership on this issue, diversity was not institutionalized, and the voices of people of color remained scarce.

Discouraged Participation

Being the only person of color at the table and feeling pressure to “say the right answer” at all times can lead to discouragement for future engagement. When people of color are not well represented in negotiations or part of decision-making processes, there is a lack of quality of ideas presented and people are discouraged from participation.

A Leaky Pipeline

In addition to discussing the barriers to entering the field due to the amount of networking and education needed, panelists also raised the difficulty of employee retention and limited opportunities to advance once employed. In some cases, jobs either do not have a clear career path, or employees find it difficult to progress from the mid to senior level, given rigid chains of command or limited options for advancement in general. At the beginning of a career, mentors provide critical advice and connections. However, once in the job, it can be difficult to find mentors to help navigate through large agencies. A lack of a clear career path and mentors at times contributes to employers leaving to go work elsewhere and a lack of people of color in senior positions.

Despite difficult entry points and problems with advancement and participation, panelists discussed several ways to help increase diversity through recruitment and creating a nurturing work environment for the advancement of all.

Widening Outreach to Universities and MSIs

Having the opportunity to create a network, reaching out to talent across the country and sending a message that lets people know their ideas and perspectives are valued often goes a long way. The Peace and Security Funders Group offers an example of how to reach out to university students across the country to find diverse talent that provides quality performance. The National Security Agency, meanwhile, used a Graduate Fellowship Program, worked with labs to support nonproliferation work, and engaged with over 40 Minority Services Institutions Programs (MSI).

Data Collection and Disaggregation

Organizations in the funding sector have collected data on the grants awarded to women and others of diverse backgrounds and worked to close the gap. In addition to data collection and disaggregation, foundations are encouraged to share best practices and the challenges they have seen in providing grants and services to those that are underrepresented.

Chad Kunkle also contributed insights to this summary.

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