Researching policy, fighting patriarchy: PIPS forum discusses gender inequalities in IR

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Female panel shares experiences of sexism within the IR field at PIPS Forum. JAMIE HOLT / The Flat Hat

Friday, Feb. 1, the Project on International Peace and Security held a forum in celebration of the 10th anniversary of PIPS and the 100th anniversary of women at the College of William and Mary. The forum took place in Tyler Hall and featured some of the College’s female alumni who have careers in international security and international relations. A panel discussion was held and was followed by a question-and-answer period. 

PIPS is an undergraduate think tank that identifies and examines international issues and creates policy suggestions based on research. PIPS, which is led by government professors Amy Oakes and Dennis Smith, also consists of six student fellows and six student interns who all contribute to research and policy recommendations. 

PIPS held this forum to provide students the opportunity to listen to female panelists’ experiences within the workforce and to allow the students to ask questions about what they could potentially experience in the workplace after leaving the College. 

The forum’s panel consisted of three College alumnae who all work in the international relations field: Elizabeth Train ’83, Heather LeMunyon-Batement ’09 and Amy Schafer ’13. The forum began with questions for the panelists prepared by the moderators.  

The conversation segued into a discussion about times when the women felt that their contributions had been disregarded because of their gender and how they dealt with those obstacles. All three women shared similar stories about struggling with equal respect. 

Train spoke about the assumptions and expectations she faced as a woman in international relations and how she used them to her advantage.

“If I was one of few women in a room where a meeting was going on, and I was inevitably asked to be the notetaker I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to leverage this.’” Train said.

“If I was one of few women in a room where a meeting was going on, and I was inevitably asked to be the notetaker I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to leverage this.’” Train said. “If you’re the note taker, you can actually control the room … take advantage if you’re a woman, or any minority in the room, and you’re assigned what you think is typically an admin role. Turn it around and into a leadership role, and people will respect you for that.”

LeMunyon-Batement shared how she often felt immediately discredited because of her gender and the inequalities she has faced as a female as most men were assumed to have the appropriate skills. 

“I’m very often the only woman in the room,” LeMunyon-Batement said.  “… I’m very often the youngest person in the room. I almost always feel like I’m working from a deficit.”

“I’m very often the only woman in the room,” LeMunyon-Batement said.  “… I’m very often the youngest person in the room. I almost always feel like I’m working from a deficit. I work with a wonderful young man who was my intern … I convinced him to come work at the commission. … If we walk in a room together, I’m very frequently the subject matter expert, but I have to work from a deficit to prove that to the room, where he gets the assumption that he knows what he’s talking about.”

When asked about how to deal with sexual harassment and assault faced by women in their workplaces, the panelists shared stories and offered advice to current students. Train spoke about where she has seen sexism in her career and how predatory behavior is fueled by ignorance.

“There is predatory behavior, and there is ignorant behavior,” Train said. “I always try to give somebody the benefit of the doubt. [Sexual harassment] is absolutely unacceptable … it impacts readiness, people’s ability to expand their energy — their mental energy or physical energy — on the task at hand.”

Following the forum, PIPS held a reception that allowed all guests to meet and speak with the panelists. The audience’s questions continued to center around the three panelists’ experience as women in their careers and delved into the specifics of the difficulties they have faced. 

One audience member asked the panelists if the perceived trade-off between a successful career and a family is indeed a severe problem, and if so, how the panelists have best navigated that trade-off.

Schaefer shared how consumers are beginning to support or avoid businesses based on policies toward their employees. She explained how businesses are making positive changes to better support working mothers and fathers because they realize the need for them. 

“In the spheres that I work in … what I’ve seen change is that consumers have really been reacting more to business or other large foundations,” Schaefer said. “One of the good things I’ve really noticed is that there have been changes, slowly, and certainly not everywhere. … This is something that not only consumers are demanding, but they’re also going to see [that] this [change] does make employees better employees too.” 

Sadie Peloquin ’19, a senior administrative intern at PIPS, explained how she and Smith planned this event to celebrate the College’s 100th anniversary of coeducation and PIPS’s 10th anniversary. 

“We were talking this year about wanting to do some event that was with the 100 years of women theme,” Peloquin said. “We started planning in October … this has been a lot of months of planning and thought, and seeing it all come together was amazing.”

Peloquin talked about how she thinks the role of women in international relations is changing and the future of the field looks like.

“Statistically, it’s pretty clear that women are becoming a greater share of not only senior positions, but just positions in general,” Peloquin said.

“Statistically, it’s pretty clear that women are becoming a greater share of not only senior positions, but just positions in general,” Peloquin said. “I think there’s a trend in that … even just looking in the room and the amount of women who were there at William and Mary studying international relations was an indication of where this field is going to go.”

Audience member Johanna Weech ’20 shared her thoughts on the forum and the impact of these women’s stories on her perspective. Weech hopes that women will continue to be heard in the workforce and work together to raise up their fellow female employees. 

“I think that women are being listened to more, and I would hope that the conversation will continue and that women will be more heard but [minority] groups in general,” Weech said. “I think that one of the things that women have to contribute to that is their sense in team work … generally women pay more attention to try to foster a team dynamic.”