Lindsay Rodman believes that having more women in leadership roles in national security will lead to better and more sound security decisions.
Rodman is Executive Director of the Leadership Council For Women In National Security (LCWINS), an organization with the mission of ensuring gender-parity and diversity for leadership roles in the national security sector.
“This is a question of national security and national imperative,” says Rodman. “The fear is that when you have a bunch of people who all come from exactly the same background with exactly the same thought processes, you end up not making the best decisions.”
Rodman, who spent eight years on active duty in the Marine Corps, left as a captain, and is now a major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, has her work cut out for her: According to the U.S. Department of Defense, less than 18% of all leadership positions at the Pentagon are occupied by women.
But as the first Marine to become a White House Fellow in over a decade, and as someone who helped to bring about some of the most impactful changes for women in the military, Rodman is not one to back down from a challenge.
As Rodman told herself when she started basic training, “I just need to figure out how to put my head down and get this done.”
The Few, The Proud
When Rodman left a high-paying job as a first-year associate at a prestigious international law firm to join the Marines, she did not have a back up plan — and she had reason to be nervous. Rodman says she already felt like “an old lady,” starting officer candidate school at age 27 while most of her peers were still teenagers and, out of approximately 70 classmates, only 23 ended up graduating.
“I was terrified because I quit my law firm for basically a one-third chance of being a Marine,” says Rodman, who felt that a military career would be the equivalent of a Ph.D. in national security. “So, this was a no-fail mission. I had it in my head that I cannot go back to the law firm. I don’t have a plan B. This is the plan.”
But the rigor of Marine Corps infantry training was only the beginning. Being a woman officer in the Marine Corps came with an entirely different set of challenges.
Rodman had attended an all-girls preparatory school in Manhattan, and had made a point to commit to women’s organizations throughout college and graduate school, qualifying women’s groups as “a big part of my identity and a place where I find a community.”
When she entered the predominantly male culture of the military, that community became more elusive. Upon arrival to her first duty station in Okinawa, Japan, for example, Rodman was one of only three women in her unit — and the only officer; meaning, of the two other women who went in and out of her building every day, codes of conduct discouraged Rodman from socializing with them. Eventually, another female officer arrived and, even though she lived four buildings away and didn’t have much contact with Rodman, “I just knew that she existed and that made me feel better,” Rodman says.
Force For Change
Given these experiences, Rodman was motivated to make a change. As Rodman moved on to her position at the Pentagon, where she held roles both during active duty and later as a civilian, she found opportunities to influence the cultural fabric of the entire military.
“I was trying to figure out policy tools that we could use to make the military friendlier to women, and to really change the culture, which is necessary for the military to be a more accessible environment for women to operate in,” she says.
One such program was the 2015 repeal of combat restrictions on women. The historic change, which was announced by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on December 3, 2015, opened up 220,000 roles previously unavailable to women, such as Army Rangers, Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Marine Corps Infantry.
Through her role at the White House, she was in a position to offer advice supporting the initiative, and was loosely affiliated with a group called “No Exceptions,” which advocated externally for the repeal. “There are so many people who’ve worked so hard on this issue and a lot of people in a more high profile way than I did, so I can’t claim it as mine,” she’s quick to explain, “except that I hope I did my small part.”
Rodman’s small part earned her a front-row seat for one of the military’s most historic moments: She and the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness were the last people to brief Carter in the green room before he went into the press conference to make his announcement.
“Honestly, it still gives me goosebumps even to say that, because it was such a meaningful and historic moment for women in the military,” Rodman says. “But just for me, it is one of the most profound changes to the military that I’ve been able to be a part of.”
As Rodman embarks on her new role at LCWINS, she feels that all of her experience as a national security expert is coalescing with her passions. “Policies around gender and diversity and inclusion have always been a part of the type of personnel issues that I’ve dealt with along the way,” Rodman says. “But to me, part of what’s exciting about this job is that I actually finally get to name it and do it explicitly.”
Unlike other advocacy groups for women in national security, LCWINS is intended to be a leadership council of women who have the seniority and the ability to truly shape the field for the future.
The marquis initiative for the organization is a pledge for gender parity in national security appointments; its goal is that every U.S. presidential candidate commits to facilitating gender parity in senior national security and foreign policy appointments. Before the primary season had kicked into full gear and narrowed the field, almost every major candidate from both parties had signed the pledge.
Seven of the former presidential candidates who have since dropped out of the race are still members of the Senate, where all national security appointments are confirmed. “We already have seven senators who have said that this is a pledge that they care about,” says Rodman. “Therefore, that should be reflected in their confirmation votes and how nominations go through.”
Additionally, LCWINS surfaces diverse security experts to the freshman women representatives in Congress, which not only provides security resources and expertise to the congresswomen, but it also helps to raise the profile of the experts themselves while dispelling the myth that diverse talent doesn’t exist.
Improvise, Adapt & Overcome
While Rodman has been able to bring about significant change for women in the military, she sees her generation as sitting in an awkward period of transition. “We are the beneficiaries of many trailblazers who came before,” she says. “There’s nothing special about me being here, but I also still have to deal with the ramifications of being in such a small minority and being in an institution that hasn’t really reconciled inclusion of women.”
Rodman hopes that women of the next generation have a different experience than her own. “It took me a while to find my voice in the military as a woman and a Marine,“ she says. “In my early career, I was silent more often than I am now, and more often than I wish I had been.”
With the power of retrospect, Rodman would advise the next generation to appreciate all the good that the military has to offer, but to “always remain constructively skeptical.”
Because, as Rodman admits, “We have a lot more work to do.”
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