Are think tanks still a man’s game?

18 April 2013

Blake Houndshell of Foreign Policy, in light of the news that Anne-Marie Slaughter is to be the new director of the New America Foundation, has looked into how many American think tanks are presided over by women. Using James McGann’s most popular 50 U.S. think tanks, he found that 42 are headed by men.

Those think tanks headed by women are:

  1. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – Jessica T. Matthews / @CarnegieFdn
  2. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars – Jane Harman / @TheWilsonCenter
  3. Center for American Progress – Neera Tanden / @neeratanden
  4. Center for Global Development – Nancy Birdsall / @nancymbirdsall
  5. Urban Institute – Sarah Rosen Wartell / @swartell 
  6. New America Foundation – Anne-Marie Slaughter /@SlaughterAM
  7. Pew Center on Global Climate Change – Eileen Claussen / @C2ES_org
  8. Stimson Center – Ellen Laipson / @StimsonCenter

We can safely assume then, that the think tank world is still predominantly run by men. There has been a recent trend, however, in appointing females to top think tank positions:

Linda Tarr-Whelan was among the first female presidents of a national think tank, founding and leading the Center for Policy Alternatives from 1986 to 2001. More recently, though, Jessica Tuchman Matthews — who has been president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace since 1997 — was virtually alone among women leaders of national think tanks (not focused on women’s issues).

Several of the women from the list above have been recently named directors of their organisations, such as Neera Tanden and Sarah Rosen Wartelll. The catch is that these are mostly progressive think tanks.

Last year, we compiled a list of think tanks around the world led by women. The conclusions drawn from that list were that there is still a bias towards certain areas of interest: women were usually leaders of think tanks that dealt with education, social issues, and gender issues. Another point of interest was that women leaders are present both in developed country and developing country think tanks. In fact, in Latin America we found a higher number of women leaders than expected, for instance:

  1. Centro de Estudios de Estado y Sociedad – Laura Golbert (Executive Director)
  2. Fundación Chile 21 – María de los Ángeles Fernandez
  3. Fundación Ideas para la Paz – María Victoria Llorente
  4. Centro Ecuatoriano de Derecho Ambiental – Verónica Arias
  5. Instituto de Estudios Peruanos – Roxana Barrantes
  6. La Asociación de Investigación y Estudios Sociales, ASIES – Raquel Zelaya
  7. Centro de Investigación de la Universidad del Pacífico – Cynthia Sanborn

Is the playing field more equal for women in Latin America?

Cynthia Sanborn, director of Universidad del Pacifico Research Centre in Lima, Peru, mentions that women who want a career in public policy research have today the same possibilities as men to reach leadership positions.

In sub-Saharan Africa, most women think tank directors have studied abroad in Europe and North America, and many come from the academic world in their countries. A few examples in Africa include:

  1. African Centre for Technology Studies – Judi Wakhungu
  2. Economic Policy Research Centre – Sarah Ssewanyana
  3. Institute of Policy Analysis and Research – Antonia Mutoro
  4. Policy Monitoring Research Centre – Michelle Morel
  5. Institute of Economic Affairs – Jean Mensa
  6. Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Research Organisation – Bitrina Diyamett

In other regions we find:

  1. Centre for Policy Analysis in Sri Lanka – Priyanthi Fernando
  2. Social Policy and Development Centre in Pakistan – Khalida Ghaus
  3. Belgrade Centre for Security Policy – Sonja Stojanovic

What is common across regions is that to be selected director, a woman has to have a high level of education, but the one barrier that women often face is the process to get a doctorate; which can be a problem for the more academic think tanks. Many women cite having to choose at some point between having a family or advancing their careers, which can lessen their chances of becoming heads of organisations.

Here is a list of Twitter accounts of female directors.