Episode 7: Professional Development Organizations

This month's episode kicks off a multi-edition series on professional development. This month, we hear from women about a number of different professional development organizations that young women can join and belong to. The featured organizations include the Fair Internship Initiative, Women in Foreign Policy Turkey, Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security (WCAPS), and #NatSecGirlSquad.

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Find your hosts on Twitter at @vaguelyacademic and @annikaep!


Ashley Pratt:  Hello and welcome to this month’s episode of Women in Foreign Policy! I’m Ashley, a foreign policy practitioner working in Washington, DC.

Annika Erickson-Pearson: And I’m Annika. I’m a graduate student in Geneva, Switzerland. You’re listening to the monthly podcast of the Women in Foreign Policy organization, where each month, Ashley and I discuss a different topic in foreign policy and hear from women working on that issue.

Ashley: This episode begins a new series on professional development and different facets of that which include professional organizations, resumes, CVs, transitioning out of academia and into the professional sphere, and all sorts of questions you might have as you go out developing your career, or moving from early career to mid-career, or maybe even from mid-career to a senior position.

Annika: Yeah, I am excited. Today’s episode is specifically about professional organizations. Some of you know what they are and belong to them. Some of you have no idea, but don’t worry we will explain it all. So for this episode we have spoken with a number of women who work for or represent different organizations and we will hear from them one by one.

But before we start I just wanted to take a minute to talk about what professional organizations are, what they do, and what the value of being a part of one is. I’m a member of an organization called StartingBloc, and essentially it’s a group of professionals all across the world who have similar professional interests. I love being a part of this group because it is not only a network (so if I’m looking for a job I can go to them), but also if I have any kinds of professional questions (How do I navigate this transition from here to there? What is this kind of job in our field really like?) I have a network of people to go to for advice. It also helps me explore the reaches of my field in general and is a good place for me to make my own luck and bump into new opportunities.

So what we’ve tried to do in this episode today is give you a number of different examples of different professional organizations for women in the foreign policy spheres. We are starting off today’s episode with Alice. (She was interviewed in our most recent STEM episode.) She spoke to us about the Fair Internship Initiative. So here’s Alice.

Alice Guo: Hi, I’m Alice, I used to volunteer for the Fair Internship Initiative, particularly as a representative from the World Health Organization. The FII, which is the Fair Internship Initiative is a coalition of several different organizations. I think overall the initiative aims to advocate for fair internships across the world, and they particularly are focused within the United Nations: their specialized agencies as well as their field offices. I think they [the FII] do also work with other international organizations. Their main purpose is to advocate for fair internship standards and qualities. So, paid internships with decent financial coverage where you can get your basic living expenses and welfare covered. So I’d say it’s for anyone doing an internship, particularly I’d say at the international level and within the UN. But their aim is to promote fair internships as an overall aspect.

I think it’s particularly important in the international space because fair internships ensure equitable representation of all groups, especially economic diversity, geographic diversity, and gender diversity. And so it is very important for an internship to be fair, and by fair I mean: being paid (well paid) so that you can live a comfortable life while doing the internship. It ensures that people who were previously unable to access internships due to the financial costs and financial barriers are now able to. And in the international spaces this is particularly important! Because it then fosters the geographic, economic, and social diversity that is needed to really understand global issues.

So the Fair Internship Initiative has a couple of offices. It’s based in Geneva, New York, and Vienna. I was involved with the Geneva chapter. Don’t hesitate to reach out, and don’t hesitate to get involved. The organization itself is a wealth of knowledge on understanding the current situation on fair internships and equitable internships. They can be a very good resource on understanding the scope, particularly in the international organization field, like the UN, on what’s happening currently within them, and how you can best navigate it to ensure that you are able to get the fairest internships.

In terms of projects and tangible ways that you could help move the FII forward, I know that within the Geneva organization they are focused on advocating at the UN, particularly through missions and speaking with different advocacy groups to try to move the needle forward a little bit more. So in terms of someone who might be interested in an internship but is not in Geneva, it might be a bit more challenging to find a tangible project that is not focused there but I would discourage them from reaching out. Reach out to get resources and to see if there’s any way they can help.

Ashley: Next up, we spoke to Zeynep who runs Women in Foreign Policy Turkey. Even though the names of these organizations are really similar, we are actually not affiliated with Zeynep’s organization.

Zeynep Alemdar: Hello, my name is Zeynep Alemdar. I am an associate professor of political science and founder of the Women in Foreign Policy initiative in Istanbul. It is actually for all women who are interested in international issues, for all young women who would like to become leaders in foreign policy issues, and for those who would like to make a difference with their feminine approach to foreign policy or maybe even feminist foreign policy.

We were inspired by [noticing] how little young women in Turkey, even if they are international relations students or political science students, were not thinking about going into politics, especially in terms of foreign policy or hard security issues. They were not eager to participate, even if they were interested somehow. So we thought it would be nice to first give them some role models so that they could see how foreign policy making works. And then to give them a safe space to voice their concerns over what their futures are going to be like. So what we are trying to get is to mobilize our collective expertise and develop partnerships, encourage cooperation, and empower women to become active participants of foreign policy mechanisms.

We have been active since 2014. In 2014 what we started doing was basically introducing women to the role models. We got an ex-minister from Jordan, a politician from Morocco, a friend from DC, a politician from Sweden… and we basically just sat around a table and started talking. Other than that, we did a project on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which Turkey does not have an action plan for yet. Which is basically to get women into peace processes and peace tables, which is extremely important for all countries around the world. And our last event was actually just last week, and we got together and tried to mobilize the expertise… now what we are working on is actually a binder, or spreadsheet of women working on foreign policy issues, as well as international relations, international security, and even legal issues. Because we are overwhelmed with the number of men who are on TVs every night and voicing their arguments in such a way that really has no place for negotiation. So we are also pointing out all male panels, as is popular on social media. We are trying to get a list of people to the media so that we have a say and young women have more role models in the media.

We do have a website: wfp14.com. It’s both in Turkish and English, and we have a connect to us button. But they can always email to our regular gmail address which is womeninforpol@gmail.com. I would love to connect with all of the similar organizations, initiatives, and networks of women that have been sprouting up all around the world. If you pass by Istanbul please let us know, and get to meet with our volunteers!

Annika: I was so inspired by what Zeynep has to say and I hope that you all go and check that out. Our next organization is an org from another speaker from last month’s STEM episode. So this is Bonnie talking about WCAPS, or Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security.

Bonnie Jenkins: My name is Bonnie Jenkins and I am the founder and president of Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation. It is an organization that was established in September of 2017. The main goal of the organization is to promote the voices of women of color in the areas of peace, security, and conflict. We’re really trying to find ways to help ensure that they are at the table. So many issues of peace and security affect women of color predominantly around the world and yet we’re really not at the table for the foreign policy discussions and decision-making. It’s open to women around the world, it’s not just a domestic group; it’s really looking at including women from all around the world.

Something that we’re doing now is really trying to promote our membership outside the U.S. and also outside Washington D.C. Membership is open to everyone and it’s very easy to do, it’s free, there’s no dues. Just go to the website, WCAPS.org. There’s actually a pulldown menu, in terms of getting involved, you can fill out a form. The other thing that it does offer is an opportunity, particularly for women of color, to be listed on the experts page that we have. What we’re trying to do is to highlight women of color in the field to make sure that the concern about not knowing women in the field and not being able to put them on the panels, things like that, is not really an excuse anymore. We’re trying to highlight all the women who are out there, either young or mid-career, who are in the field and can really be out there representing women of color in these different issues. That’s really the best way to get involved.

We also have a number of things that, if you go to the website, you can see that we’re doing. We’re doing podcasts, we do webinars, we have a media training project that we do for both mid-career and also for young people. We have six webinars that young people can do and get a certificate from both WCAPS and ReThink Media. We also post articles and op-eds that are written by women of color in the areas of peace and security. We have a page that’s looking at art and peace and security, that’s bringing together young women of color who work in both policy and do art related to peace and security. A number of other things are on the page that folks who are interested and want to learn more about the organization can find out. We do a lot of collaborations with organizations, we’ve had a couple of events with WIIS, Women in International Security, for example. We did a program with Brookings, the Hudson Institute, next year we’re going to be doing some more collaborations with other organizations with a focus on women and foreign policy.

We’re also establishing working groups - we have two working groups that are already established, one on cybersecurity and emerging technologies. We have a working group on weapons of mass destruction issues. And these working groups allow our members and others to have a space to have more in-depth discussions on policy issues. We’re going to be establishing a working group on climate change and one on global health and also one on human trafficking. Members can stay tuned on these issues if they want to join one of the working groups, you can do that via the website, and if you’re interested in one of the future working groups we’ll be sending out information, posting things on the website about those as well. So there’s quite a few other things that we’re trying to do and get involved in, the best thing to do is just keep checking back on the website to see what’s going on. We also invite people to follow us on Twitter and Instagram, @WCAPSnet. We also have an opportunities page on the website, we post job openings as well, if there’s an interest in that.

Ashley: I really enjoyed getting to talk to Bonnie. I think that the work her organization does is really crucial, especially today when we are so cautious of the different intersections of oppression and how just being a woman is not enough. We must think of people at the intersections of all of the forces acting on them, and that women of color are especially disadvantaged in a lot of different situations. We also spoke to Maggie who runs NatSecGirlSquad, which some of you may be familiar with as a hashtag on twitter.

Maggie Feldman-Piltch: Hi, my name is Maggie Feldman-Piltch, I’m the founder and executive director of NatSecGirlSquad. We are a membership organization that is focused on competent diversity throughout the national security apparatus. We do focus almost solely but not totally on defense and security. Essentially, what we are interested in is not just helping women get a seat at the table and stay there but take it for all it’s worth. Our programming is focused on three areas: one is helping women develop an expertise in whatever they’ve determined is their area of the field that they’re most interested in to helping them build confidence in that expertise, because I think that we all know that too often, women are absolutely more than qualified but for one reason or another they don’t feel comfortable speaking up, whatever that means. So we work on things like media training, we help women find avenues for publishing, and we also re-up stuff they’re already working on. Finally, we work on informal and formal networking opportunities to help people build their own professional family of people who are committed to and invested in their careers and their success, to lean on one another.

I mentioned we’re a membership organization for people, which is accurate because not all of our members are women. Membership is open to everyone. We want everybody to be able to define success for themselves.

We have members who are still in undergrad, we have members who are in high school thanks to our partner Girl Security up in Boston that works with high school and middle school aged girls that are interested or might be interested in careers in law enforcement and national security. We have members that are more than 90 years old. We welcome everybody and our programming really is focused on that entire array. We try to do at least four events a month; one of those is always a lunch-and-learn webinar that you can do from your desk, wherever you are, that’s focused on a tactical career skill - sometimes that’s salary negotiation, sometimes that’s working on your resume. We do one social event - sometimes that’s a happy hour, sometimes it’s a SoulCycle ride together, sometimes it’s everybody go get manicures. It’s a lot of different things. I also hold office hours at least two days a month. And then we do one policy-focused item, sometimes it’s a round-table. For example in January we are having a conversation on cryptocurrency which I know nothing about. We try to do at least one small-group dinner or lunch with an expert in the field. And then again we also do media training and that kind of stuff.

I live and work in D.C., so the majority of our activity for right now is in Washington. We have members in LA, we have members in Chicago, in Seattle, Boston, New York, Australia, Philadelphia. We have a lot of members in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, at the Army War College.

I’ve mentioned we’re a membership organization - for the start of 2019, we’re aiming to gain at least 30 new members. Membership is intentionally fairly low-cost. Membership is open to everybody, it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or not. It starts at $20 a year. Our hope is that by gaining at least 30 new members, we are planning a complete re-do of our website which is really exciting. The new website will have a membership portal with access to an interactive job board, it will allow you to connect more directly with other members without having to go through me, which is so helpful for the state of my inbox. We’ll be doing, for example, study groups for people who want to take the foreign service officer test. We’ll be doing a lot more outreach on campuses, particularly at [historically black colleges and universities] in D.C. and outside D.C. We’ll be doing on-demand career counseling in 2019. We’re working on an internship and fellowship program where, through NatSecGirlSquad, you would be paid and placed at an institution in D.C. or elsewhere. We’re planning a big presence for AUSA, so there’s a lot happening. We also have podcast coming through Deep State Radio Network starting in January - the name is unknown at this time but keep an eye out for it. 2019 is going to be a really big year for us and I would love to make sure we’re reaching as many people as we can.

Head to our website which is NatSecGirlSquad.com and just hit the memberships button and you will see all the different levels of membership. We have memberships for students, early career, mid-career, almost senior career… we have memberships for people who have already achieved world domination. We have a whole separate membership category for men at a variety of levels. We have corporate membership programs, and our corporate members are a huge part of what we do. Not only do they provide tactical assistance for people looking for jobs and really increase our network and our reach, but all of our corporate members - like Raytheon - and partners - like Gender Champions - anybody affiliated with those groups gets a discount

on their memberships, which is great. Encourage your company to hop on board.

NatSecGirlSquad is a hashtag - it is completely searchable across the internet, especially on Twitter. The Twitter presence is significant. You can probably find 15 jobs, events, internships minimum every day just by using that hashtag.

Annika: #NatSecGirlSquad!! I love them. I heard about them actually through the hashtag for the first time so that advertising definitely worked.

Ashley: So we hope that this first episode has been useful to you. Definitely these are not the only professional organizations out there. There are thousands, literally thousands. They can be specific to gender or not specific to gender. Obviously here on the Women in Foreign Policy podcast we really wanted to highlight those that have a focus on women and on a gendered analysis of the professional sphere of national security and international relations. But there are plenty of organizations that are ethnicity-based, or that are based on where you are from, like Asian professionals in national security. So I really encourage you to just get out there, do a google search, connect with your network, and ask them what organizations they enjoy. A lot of these organizations have mixers or an initial event that you can attend before you join so you can see if it’s the kind of thing you’ll get a lot of benefit out of. So I’d encourage you to just explore the space and figure out what you are looking for from a professional organization before you go looking for it so that you know what’s going to fit your needs.

Annika: Yeah, I totally agree. Like I said at the beginning, I’m a part of a professional organization and I did invest money in it and I find that it was really worth it for me. But it definitely is an individual decision, like any financial choice. But also, some of the organizations that we heard from today are not paid memberships and are free to engage with.

The other part that I want to acknowledge as we are wrapping up is the limited number of organizations that we featured. We recognize that these organizations were largely English-speaking or have mostly English-speaking chapters. There are tons of other organizations from tons of other countries that are not limited in that way. We also want to recognize that a lot of these organizations are targeted towards more Western voices or audiences, particularly in Washington, DC or London. If you are listening to this from somewhere else or you know of an organization from somewhere else please let us know. Send us a tweet or an email, or let us know in some way and we’ve love to be able to share those names of the other organizations at the beginning of the next episode. Because we definitely don’t think that the center of the world is in Western capitals.

We want to know what you think about this as well, we want this to be a conversation, so please do come talk to us on the internet. We’ll be back at the end of January with our next episode. It will also be a part of this professional development series. In the meantime, we’re on Twitter at @WomeninFP. Also we’re on Instagram, and we’re doing videos every weekend over the next few months to introduce the team. Ashley’s is now up! So if you really want to see our faces, mine was up last month, so both of us are now on Instagram right now. And then my personal Twitter is @annikaep.

Ashley:  If you’re not on Instagram, we also have the videos on our twitter account, if you are desperate to see our faces. We really want to hear back from you about what you thought about this episode, what you think about this series, any particular questions you have regarding the topics we’re going to be covering in the future: networking, panels, public speaking, mentorship and sponsorship… any of these things that you have questions about. We want to hear from you so that we can create a series that is as useful as possible to you. If you have any thoughts about the podcast in general, anything you’d like to hear in upcoming episodes, themes you want to suggest, people you want us to talk to, you can tweet those at us. You can email the podcast; our contact information for all of us on the Women in Foreign Policy website. I am on Twitter @vaguelyacademic. I’m happy to talk to you about the podcast, about anything… effectively anything, actually. If you like the work we’re doing, please consider supporting us via PayPal at lmgoulet or on Patreon at Women in Foreign Policy.

Annika: Thanks so much for listening and for being here. We really appreciate it and value your time. So we will see you next month and don’t forget to share this with everyone you know. See you later!

Ashley & Annika: Bye!