Date of Award

Spring 5-2022

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Global Policy


Jim Settele

Second Committee Member

Robert Glover

Third Committee Member

Nicholas Micinski

Additional Committee Members

Lora Pitman


Women have held some of the highest-ranking national security positions in the United States, though the overall number of women in leadership positions has remained relatively small until recently. The Biden Administration has achieved gender parity in their national security leadership positions, with over fifty percent of these positions being held by women. Since this is the first time in U.S. history that women have such a significant presence in the defense field, it is important to analyze and understand the changes that can come as a result.

The purpose of this research is to broadly understand the impact that women in leadership have on national security policymaking. To begin to examine this aim, three questions are posed: What approaches do women take to lead in the national security field? Is the national security field different when women are in leadership positions? Does having more women in the national security field change outcomes?

This study uses qualitative methods to approach these topics. This study examines ten interviews with women across the national security field, explicitly looking at their careers, experiences, and approaches to leadership. Using initial and focused coding and conceptual category development, I was able to use quotes and themes from interviews to analyze commonalities across all ten interviews. The themes that emerged from the coding process were assessed for their frequency across all interviews and the importance of the data in answering the research questions. From this process, a few key categories emerged, which included the differing traits between men and women in the field, the culture and attitudes of the field, the evolution of women in national security, and the impact that women have on national security.

Ultimately, the themes and analysis of this research showed that the increase in women in national security leadership did contribute to changes in U.S. national security. The data did not show that women make different national security policy decisions, such as the decision to carry out drone strikes or provide military aid but did show that having equitable representation of women in the national security field can yield changes in the culture of the field as well as create more well-rounded, comprehensive decisions. The data highlighted that women in leadership positions make more collaborative environments and can help create a more flexible work environment to accommodate caregiving responsibilities for both men and women. Increased representation is also important in continuing a strong pipeline of women in the national security field. Because this study has a small sample size, the results may not be generalizable to the entire national security field. A larger study would need to be conducted to yield more generalizable results.