Good Morning! I am Under Secretary Bonnie Jenkins.
I am happy to take this time to discuss my path and career experiences. I have worked in the field of weapons of mass destruction, arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation for about 30 years.
However, my introduction was not a typical one. I did not grow up in a family who worked in the area of foreign policy, international security, national security much less WMD. I grew up in the Bronx, New York where few if anyone talked about these issues. We focused on domestic issues, and of course on issues in New York City.
I was not really exposed to the issues I work on today until after I graduated from law school in NY and started working as a Fellow at the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the International law Office. When I came face to face with people who were in these areas of work, I fell heavy for it. Of course, back then, there were very few women and still like today, little other diversity.
It has been a road since then that I have truly enjoyed, and I have watched particularly recently the increase of women in these “hard security” fields. I served as Ambassador for Threat Reduction programs under the Obama Administration and now, I have the honor of being the first African-American Under Secretary at the U.S. Department of State, and of course also in my current role as U/S for Arms Control and International Security.
I am particularly proud of the administration for their vision of nominating a woman of color to lead the Department’s work on issues of “hard security.” In this role, I continue to take my role seriously and understand that women in leadership positions have a responsibility to give back and diversity is fundamental within the workplace.
I recognize that this can be extraordinarily challenging in the nuclear security field and I wanted to share my perspective and some of my strategies for career success.
Stand up and let your voice be heard. Recognize that your personal experiences and perspective are valuable and offer a unique perspective that others do not have and should pay attention to.
Be a pathbreaker. A diversity of views is essential to combat group think and defuse potential conflicts. There are win-win outcomes even in hard security fields like nuclear security if we have patience to search for them and the tenacity to pursue them after they have been identified.
Remember to breathe. It can be very hard to retain confidence and focus when you are the only person of your gender or ethnicity in the room. Draw strength from the fact that everyone endures occasional self-doubt. We only succeed to the extent we learn to adapt and overcome those feelings.
Maintain your support system. We need at least three things to thrive professionally: a precious few mentors for expert advice to help us chart our path; colleagues and trusted subordinates with whom we can
exchange ideas and encouragement; and true friends, ideally outside your immediate work community, to anchor you and relieve stress. Don’t become so passionate about your work that you forget to cultivate this strategy, which is useful both for self-care and career advancement.
Work on what interests you. Again, I got my start as a lawyer. Legal training is useful in any national security field, both for the knowledge itself and the flexibility it provides. As both a lawyer and an adjunct professor at several universities I had the freedom to move about and explore new challenges every three years or so. That’s my personal limit, but you should follow your own natural tendencies.
Work both in and outside of government. The U.S. system of government and education allows talented individuals to regularly move between Federal government, Congressional, think-tank, NGO, and non-profit work. The mechanics will vary in your country, but this is an excellent way to build your competence, self-reliance, and ability to transition seamlessly between jobs.
Finally, enjoy your journey! Learn to take time to relax and remind yourself of how wonderful it is to be alive.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my perspective. I hope you have a wide-ranging and productive panel discussion. Please feel free to contact me through my staff to share your stories and perspectives.