Lisa W. Hershman, the Defense Department's acting chief management officer and the Pentagon's third-highest civilian leader, is leading the Women, Peace and Security Initiative in the department.
Hershman worked in industry and knows the value gained via gender diversity, not only from developing strategies, but also in carrying them out. The same thing can happen in the security world, she said.
Creating a peaceful world in which all can rise to their potential is the dream of all people, she said during an interview, and including women in the security realm increases the odds of that happening. "We always want to prevent conflict, if possible," she said. "Some of the statistics we've seen are enlightening. When … women participate in the peacekeeping process, … the agreement is 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years. That's a compelling statistic."
On a tactical level, the Army actively recruited women for service in Afghanistan in 2011, before the combat exclusion policy was lifted. Still, women could be attached to all units — including infantry and Special Forces teams. The women searched and questioned Afghan women, and they protected Afghan women during combat operations in their villages. The soldiers also would glean intelligence that could save Afghan and American lives.
"We also have some research examining all the peace agreements in the post-Cold War period," Hershman said. "It found that participation of civil society groups in general, including women's organizations, made a peace agreement 64 percent less likely to fail."
Hershman's main mission as acting chief management officer is to push reform in the department. She said she has been struck by the similarities between reform and the Women, Peace and Security initiative. Both are transformative, she noted. Both entail thinking about change and thinking about things differently.
Both require "shifting thinking and behaviors," she said. "Both require leadership to begin the process of changing culture. There are parallel paths, because both require reacting to change." From a process standpoint, she added, the similarities are amazing.
The ideas, attitudes, needs, requirements of women — who, after all, are a bit more than 50% of the human race — must be considered across the range of security perspective. Research proves this. Hershman noted that a visible presence of female peacekeepers has been shown to empower women and girls in host communities and can raise women's participation rates in local police and military forces.
"In Liberia, observers attributed an increase in women's participation in the national security sector — from 6 to 17% over nine years — to the example set by the all-female police units deployed as part of the U.N. peacekeeping mission," she said.
DOD has moved out smartly on the initiative, and its efforts are influencing other agencies in government to embrace this, Hershman said. She commended Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood and Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for their efforts in the initiative, saying both have been pushing implementation for two years.
Moving forward, it is important to continue the push, Hershman said. She will work with others to ensure the initiative is institutionalized and considered in all aspects of defense. Tactical personnel need to know about how women are treated in the nations they operate in. Senior leaders need to understand how to get women involved in peacekeeping or peace enforcement operations. From planning through execution, she said, what women think must be considered at all echelons of the military.