Hello, everyone. Thank you all for participating in the inaugural Women in Foreign Policy Conference. This is such an important topic – both to me personally, and to our national interest, because we can’t solve the challenges of our time unless we have women’s perspectives, skills, and ideas throughout foreign policy and national security.
Here in the United States, women have served as some of our top leaders in diplomacy, defense, and development.
I’m privileged to hold the office that Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Rodham Clinton once held – three giants of diplomacy who made significant contributions to our national security.
And today, women represent the United States around the world in top leadership roles – including Linda Thomas-Greenfield, our ambassador to the United Nations; Samantha Power, who runs USAID; and Avril Haines, our director of national intelligence.
They’re all exceptional public servants who represent American values, advance American interests, and work with total commitment to deliver results for the American people.
They do these jobs because foreign policy and national security can be fascinating, exciting, and deeply meaningful fields. That’s why I’m so thrilled that all of you are at this conference – because we need talented, driven people like you to come join us.
Whatever you study – whether international relations, public health, mechanical engineering, computer science, applied math, or something else entirely – I urge you to explore whether a career in foreign policy is right for you.
Every day, people from all areas of expertise work together at the State Department to tackle the most difficult challenges facing our world, like how to combat the climate crisis, so we can protect the planet for generations to come… how to defend and advance human rights and strengthen democracies worldwide… how to build cooperation among countries to end the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare the world for global health emergencies… and so much more.
And to do our best work – and represent this highly diverse country – we need a highly diverse team. That’s another reason why I was eager to speak with you today.
For a long time, the fields of national security and foreign policy were dominated by men. And still today, too many photographs of diplomatic meetings are of men – and only men – sitting across a table from each other. And there are still times when I go to represent our country to a room full of male diplomats – joined by male diplomats.
It’s much better than it used to be, and women are serving and leading at every level around the world – but we must go further. That’s why we’ve been hard at work to make sure that the State Department is a place where women of all backgrounds – especially those from marginalized identities, like women of color, trans women, and other underrepresented groups – are included and empowered to lead.
We’re expanding our workforce policies to make them more flexible, including by offering options for remote work – something our colleagues, especially those with family caregiving responsibilities, have been asking us to do. We’re reviewing our practices for recruitment, hiring, reviews, and promotions, to do all we can to remove bias, including gender bias.
And we’re increasingly integrating women and girls across our foreign policy itself; because you can’t effectively help communities adapt to climate change, or support public health systems worldwide, or advance democratic values without putting women’s roles, needs, and rights front and center. We’re doing this work with a focus on gender equity, because we can’t achieve global prosperity, security, and stability without the full participation of women and girls in all economic, social, and political spheres of life.
Every day, I see women leaders, experts, and practitioners craft and carry out foreign policy. They do so with insights, expertise, and perspectives that are vital if we want to deliver for the American people in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world. Here’s one story that I particularly enjoy.
In 2013, Secretary Kerry and his Russian counterpart announced a plan to eliminate part of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile.
A group of four women raised their hands to figure out how to make it happen. One had a Ph.D. in biology. One flew transport planes in and out of combat zones. The third was a nuclear medical science officer who had spent time searching for weapons of mass destruction in war zones. The fourth had honed her critical thinking skills as a top college debater.
Together, they spent months discussing how to dispose of these weapons safely. They considered detonating them with an explosive or burning them in a dumpster-sized incinerator or an open pit. Finally, they came up with an out-of-the-box idea: destroying the stockpile in a machine in international waters.
And they carried that idea forward and worked with hundreds of other people across the United States government to make it a reality. On August 18, 2014, 1,200 tons of Syria’s poison gas were finally destroyed.
That’s the kind of creativity that’s possible when we bring the best and brightest together to solve the world’s hardest problems. And that’s precisely the kind of creativity we need for the challenges ahead.
This conference will give you a chance to learn from an outstanding lineup of speakers about urgent matters of foreign policy and how you can be a part of it. And I hope you give serious consideration to contributing your talent to a career in national security. And perhaps selfishly, I hope you consider the State Department as first among your many options.
Our country and our world will be better off with you on our team.