Caregiving and National Security Careers: Retaining the Workforce We Want
by Folashade Olumola (LCWINS Spring Intern)
As of yet, the field of national security and foreign policy has not reached gender parity. This is evidenced in the representation of women in senior-level and leadership positions. One of the largest impediments to women’s advancement in the national security and foreign policy field is the lack of commitment across the profession to support caregiving by women and men who seek to advance their careers.
COVID-19 has further revealed the need for effective policies that encourage sustainable caregiving programs and the implementation of family-leave. The pandemic has amplified stressful factors that come from caregiving and affect the mental and physical health of individuals in the work field.
Through LCWINS’ own analysis, presented in our Report, Women on the Edge: COVID 19 and Working in National Security, and our network at LCWINS, we have learned that the composition of our national security leadership is as much a product of attrition as it is a meritocracy. It is crucial for all players in the field — potential employers and potential employees alike — to address what kinds of policies in the national security environment will encourage a healthy work-life balance for working parents.
We need our best and brightest to be addressing the national security challenges of today and tomorrow. We should not satisfy ourselves with a homogeneous leadership shaped by those who had adequate wealth to afford childcare or who had a supportive spouse at home. Instead, employers and institutions should incorporate flexible and supportive systems for all employees. In the long run, this will pave the way for caregivers to balance their caregiving responsibilities and advance their careers in the field of national security and governmental positions.
Below, we suggest a few considerations that employers can implement to reform their approach to hiring and retention to ensure we provide support and equitable advancement into leadership for all.
1. Encouragement of Family Friendly Policies
One way organizations in the national security sector can take steps to create a supportive environment for parents is by implementing sufficient paid leave for families which has been shown to strengthen the involvement of women in the labor force.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, implementing policies with paid leave in the United States led to a “20 percent reduction in the number of female employees leaving their jobs in the first year.” Such policies improve the health and performance of employees in the workforce which in the long run is beneficial to employers from all fields. With respect to parental leave, there are mental and physical benefits for parents and children from policies that encourage parents to focus on their family after childbirth. This reduces the stress to return to work immediately and makes it less difficult for women to stay in the workforce.
Furthermore, according to the Center for Creative Leadership, women rated paid time off as the most important factor, followed by healthcare benefits and flexible schedules, when questioned on the methods in which organizations can support women in the workplace. Through the encouragement of policies such as paid leave, employers should also look to providing quality workplace programs that encourage flexibility for the working class that have to balance their career and family life.
2. Transparency with Job Expectations
Communication and detailed job descriptions are important for individuals with caregiving or other obligations outside of work. First, transparency helps people with caregiving responsibilities to feel comfortable accepting a job offer. In the national security sector, there are often travel and relocation obligations that come along with senior leadership positions. It may be difficult for people with caregiving responsibilities working in the field of national security to accept a job if they are not provided a detailed job description that includes matters such as travel obligations, flexibility of the work day, ability to accommodate sick days or paid leave days for dependent care, or even the need for relocation. These factors can impact caregiving responsibilities, which is why it is important for employers to be transparent with the job expectations of potential employees and communicate the process when possible.
3. Increasing the flexibility of the workplace
Having a workplace that is flexible to the needs of the employee and employer is an important factor that contributes to a healthy environment for both parties. Considering the obligations and unpredictable events that come from being a parent only reveals the need for such an environment.
For employers, it is crucial to strategically consider what programs and policies could be implemented that will make the environment more comfortable for parents during unexpected situations. Anticipating the need to accommodate parents who may have to attend a school event or tend to a sick child during the workday will be important to the development of strategic policies.
In national security, flexibility can be incorporated through factors such as working remotely, paid leave, and considering how each individual’s situation could be accommodated. The value of providing a space in the national security field that is flexible to working families provides incentives for well-qualified individuals to stay in the field.
4. Maintaining healthy communication
To retain employees in the national security workplace, employers must ensure that they have created an environment that is receptive to clear communication. This point also connects directly with the flexibility that is provided in the workplace. Ensuring there is a comfortable system that allows employees to communicate unexpected time-off requests is equally important.
In the field of national security and foreign policy, each sector, and even each organization within each sector has a different culture. To recruit and promote the right individuals, organizations should ensure the culture does not put a certain group at a disadvantage and is adjustable to the circumstances of high performing individuals.
Folashade Olumola is a senior at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She was an intern at the Leadership Council for Women in National Security.
Leader, Alden. “Women on the Edge: COVID-19 and working in national security.” The Leadership Council for Women in International Security, 13 Jan. 2021, www.lcwins.org/pages/women-on-the-edge.
Davis, Lisa. “National security and workplace flexibility aren’t Incompatible after all.” The Rand Corporation, 17 Jul. 2020, www.rand.org/blog/2020/07/national-security-and-workplace-flexibility-arent-incompatible.html.
Society for Human Resource Management. “National study of employers.” Society for Human Resource Management, 31 January 2018, www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/Pages/National-Study-of-Employers.aspx.
Tenpas, Kathryn. “Just how diverse is President Biden’s Prospective Cabinet?” The Brookings Institution, 13 January 2021, www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/01/13/just-how-diverse-is-presidents-biden-prospective-cabinet/.
UNCIEF “Family-Friendly Policies: Redesigning the Workplace of the Future. A Policy Brief.” UNCIEF Early Childhood Development, July 2019,
Center for Creative Leadership. “Women in the workplace: Why Women Make Great Leaders & How to Retain Them.” 7 April 2021, www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/7-reasons-want-women-workplace/.