“I for one, do think there’s a disadvantage from having [...] five Catholics [...] and three Jews on the court. [...] Everyone from an Ivy League school. And virtually everyone…from New York. There is no criminal defense lawyer on the court." [...]
The first Hispanic Supreme Court justice said having different backgrounds helped the justices “educate each other to be better listeners and better thinkers because we understand things from experience.”
“A different perspective can permit you to more fully understand the arguments that are before you and help you articulate your position in a way that everyone will understand”
When I started Women in Foreign Policy (WIFP), I wanted to show role models beyond gender: I wanted to interview women from all age groups and all ethnicities. I have recently realised that I also need to feature women who haven't come from the same universities that seem to provide candidates for most foreign policy jobs.
Part of it is my own fault. Two years ago, when I started planning WIFP, my key issue was: how do I get women on the site? So I went to who I knew, my friends from the London School of Economics (LSE) and their acquaintances. It follows that in the early days, LSE alumni were overrepresented on the site.
However, I have now published over 100 interviews. I don't believe it's chance, but rather a trend, that so many of them went to the LSE, King's College London (particularly the War Studies department), the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University or Georgetown University.
Of course they are respected universities, ranked highly on league tables, and their graduates tend to be successful across industries. But it also means that you end up with a unity of thought. I can spot an LSE grad from a single conversation, before knowing that's where they studied, based on how they frame arguments and their frame of reference.
This goes beyond how people are trained, it also speaks to the kind of students and life experiences these universities look for. Part of the reason might be self-reproductive: as it is known alumni go into foreign policy, prospective students who want to go into foreign policy are more likely to apply. I am also aware that universities aren't the only things that define the people who attend them.
A key argument for more diversity in foreign policy, or in any sector, is that it can change the way organisations think and act. But if men and women are trained the same way, is that argument still valid? Or should we rejoice that there are more women, including women of colour, graduating from those universities who will be able to frame their points in ways that will talk to the majority, and has therefore a chance to win it over?
As for my responsibility in this, I want to interview more women who didn't go to the ‘usual suspect’ foreign policy universities. I want to show to girls and current students that even if you didn't study at the ‘right’ university, you can still choose a career in the sector and make the difference you wish.
What do you think?