“Nuclear policy affects us all,” Ambassador Laura Holgate told Ploughshares Fund’s Michelle Dover. “All of these things are global in their effect. And so to suggest that half the population is not present for the conversation makes that conversation illegitimate just from the start.”
Holgate and Dover are the co-founders of Gender Champions in Nuclear Policy, a leadership network that aims to break down gender barriers and promote gender equality in the nuclear field. Together, they celebrated the network’s first birthday and reflected back on the visible success of their initiative.
“We still find extreme underrepresentation of women in the nuclear policy field, especially at mid- and top-levels,” explained Holgate. “And what that says is that we still have an institutional problem in the nuclear policy field that is holding women back, that is preventing our best work collectively.”
“So, how do you change an institution? You have to start at the top.”
Gender Champions in Nuclear Policy relies on leaders of institutions like think tanks, foundations, and advocacy groups to make public pledges to move toward gender balance. Some of the pledges are universal, while others are geared more specifically to the individual organizations.
In the year since its launch, over forty organizations involved in the nuclear policy field have signed up to become gender champions, including the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Stimson Center, Ploughshares Fund, and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, among many others.
Holgate and Dover unveiled a recent coup, too: Thom Masonn, the laboratory director at Los Alamos National Laboratory - the birthplace of the atomic bomb - was the newest addition to the gender champion network. “If there is a more traditional, storied part of the nuclear policy community than Los Alamos, I don’t know what it is,” said Holgate.
One of the largest targets of the network: the “manel,” or all-male panel of experts ubiquitous throughout Washington, DC. “The concept of a manel has now become our everyday parlance,” said Dover. “And so hearing that maybe the answer is just not to be on a manel - it really just felt groundbreaking.”
But it’s more than just shunning single-gender events. “When we see that this goal of panel parity or diverse panels is taken seriously,” explained Holgate, “we see that the quality of the conversation actually goes up.”
“We know from study after study after study that diverse groups make better decisions,” said Holgate. “By not adding the women that we know are out there who have done the work, who have earned the insights, who have a lot to say about these issues, we’re losing out. The conversation is less good. The decisions are less effective.”
Holgate had some simple advice for those looking to become gender champions. “It’s really easy,” she said. “All we need from that leader is their commitment to the panel pledge and to describe three additional pledges that they intend to make and meet.”
“And then go to the website,” Dover added.
“And then go to the website,” Holgate agreed.