On 25 March 2021, the Think Tanks and Civil Society Program (TTCSP) of the University of Pennsylvania organised a virtual panel discussion on the topic of “Breaking The Glass Ceiling In The Ivory Tower: The Role of Women in Think Tanks and Policy Advice”.

The Director of GLOBSEC Policy Institute and CEE Her Professional, Alena Kudzko, took part in Session II. on “Articulating the Challenges Facing Women in Think Tanks”, along with Fatima Yousif Al Sebaie (Research Fellow at DERASAT), Elizabeth Dibble (Chief Operating Officer at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), Seun Ojo (Head, Public Policy Intelligence & Reform Management at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group), Jessica Wau (Head of ASEAN Program at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs), and Abla Abdel-Latif (Executive Director at the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies).

While the nature of the discussion allowed for a wide range of inputs from the environment of think tanks, institutes and academia, Alena Kudzko highlighted three main challenges women regularly face when attempting to move up the career ladder. First, stereotypical perspectives influence the general views on who is qualified to occupy senior positions within a think tank; second, the lack of a viable social security system puts additional pressure on women to fit into a position traditionally created to be compatible with a life of men; and third, women are expected to have more experience in diplomatic circles and business before admitted into the leadership positions in the think tank industry. Since the average female representation in public and private institutions is far from representative of the population, women are disadvantaged right from the start of their careers if aspiring for high-level positions in a think tank.

Women’s qualities are often either overlooked, belittled or underestimated. In regard to opportunities for female professionals, these are not equally spread across all the ranks, with entry-level jobs being more easily attainable than executive positions. As Elizabeth Dibble said: “the pyramid near the top is very steep and so, women need to become better advocates for themselves.”

Jessica Wau pointed out that the male-dominated leadership of the vast majority of think tanks does not provide female professionals with a sufficient number of role models to look up to. This observation is supported by GLOBSEC‘s Report on Absent Voices which shows that only 21.43% of top NGO board positions in the V4 countries were held by women in 2020.

The panelists agreed that the obstacles women need to overcome in this industry are not too distinct from the so-called “glass ceilings” found elsewhere in society. To learn more, watch the whole recording of the sessions here as well as the full agenda and the list of truly inspiring speakers here on the official TTCSP‘s website.