Word circulated fast about the #metoonatsec open letter: more than 200 women from the national security community describing themselves as survivors of sexual harassment, assault or abuse, or as women who know others who are. Like so many others, I cheer for these women loudly.
I also feel sad for their experiences; angry that as a nation we’re perhaps not as far along as I had hoped we would be by now. I could speak to the amazing work these women do, and the sacrifices they’ve made for our country, but I dare say it doesn’t matter. No woman in any industry (and we’ve all seen that media is no exception here) should be made to feel worthless or disrespected or, in some cases, even afraid.
But this letter might accomplish something that other revelations have not: There really is no one market where women are immune to such treatment; individuals within one particular market don’t universally stand taller or above bad behavior, nor do women in any particular market demand more. As the #metoonatsec open letter states, “this is not just a problem in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, newsrooms or Congress. These abuses are born of imbalances of power and environments that permit such practices while silencing and shaming their survivors.”
Those in this community might recognize some of the names included in the letter. They are women who hold senior positions in the departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security, among others. So much as no industry is immune, nor are women of a particular level of seniority.
I remember writing a blog in 2013 when Linda Hudson announced her retirement from BAE Systems about why I wished she would stick around a little longer. I said at the time that while Hudson succeeded on merit, as have Phebe Novakovic of General Dynamics and Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin to name a couple others, their sex still mattered. It may not factor into how they did run or do run their companies, but it sends a strong message to peers (men and women) and to young girls now mulling their career options.
When I wrote that blog, I probably never would’ve guessed that I’d be writing this one nearly four years later, about how women still struggle in this market and so many others. And yet here we are. Again, I wish we were further along by now.
Those who signed this letter included a list of demands — a list that should permeate every market or discipline. They want clear leadership from the very top recognizing that these behaviors are unacceptable. They want multiple, clear, private channels to report abuse without fear of retribution. They want external, independent mechanisms to collect data on claims and publish them anonymously. They want mandatory, regular training for all employees. And they want mandatory exit interviews for all women leaving federal service.
Another demand: that the community address “the serious gender imbalances in senior leadership positions because male-dominated teams have been found to be more prone to abuses and more diverse teams are consistently linked to better outcomes." They want to see leaders and managers across the national security community held accountable for creating, nurturing and enforcing a workplace culture that respects and includes women as equal peers and colleagues.
This does not seem too much to ask.
We’re at an inflection point, which is why this letter was so important to circulate. People are listening. #Metoonatsec has spurred all sorts of chatter on social media. Across other industries, NBC announced a high-profile firing on Nov. 29. Multiple companies are sending memos to employees about proper behavior and what they’re doing to ensure a healthy work environment. And yes, I’ve chimed in myself via social media.
There’s an opportunity to force cultural change, but only if women keep speaking up. As the women who signed the #metoonatsec letter wrote, “it’s time to make it stop.”