June 18, 2017

An American role model in Brussels – or a different take on leadership

Rose Gottemoeller is a regular feature these days on the speaking circuit of Brussels events where she tirelessly speaks on the needs and future of NATO. For a change – a welcome one she said – she spoke to Women in International Security (WIIS) Brussels recently about her career. The willingness to take risks, the opportunity to work in different sectors, and the awareness of her leadership role as a woman – as well as the responsibilities and expectations that come with this – allow her to leave a mark on Brussel’s and on the larger transatlantic security policy circles in Europe.

Rose did not have a strategy for her career but rather an inclination to take chances. An early opportunity brought her to the Rand Corporation as a researcher that not only provided her with a mentor but also with the opportunity to work on cutting edge security policy matters. She found that it is important for women to demonstrate content and policy expertise; it enables them to take down perception barriers. Taking advantage of the ‘revolving door’ system in the United States – a system that transposes former government officials into jobs as strategists, researchers, consultants, etc. just as the door pulls experts and former hired government employees back into government careers – she alternated between think tank postings, where she could develop intellectual capital, and government positions, where she could put her ideas to work in policy settings. In addition, a husband who supported her risk-taking attitude turned out to be a true partner in all aspects of life and allowed both to combine their careers, as well as share family responsibilities. When Rose entered the U.S. government as Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Affairs at the National Security Council under President Clinton, her husband became the lead parent for a couple of years handling school schedules, doctor visits and other unexpected demands that come with two small children. By contrast, when the children were babies, the flexibility of her think tank schedule at RAND allowed her to take on more childcare duties while her husband built his career.

Rose’s experience of having worked inside and outside the government as well as spending some time in Russia to direct the Russia office for Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, enabled her to build up networks and establish deep policy knowledge in the fields of security policy in general, the military policy of the Soviet Union/Russia, nuclear policy and non-proliferation. Her personal expertise and Moscow connections together with certain characteristics – emotional intelligence, empathy – traits that are often termed typically female – came in handy when she became the chief U.S. negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with the Russian Federation during the Obama Administration. She was well prepared in all aspects of the negotiations to dissect the arguments of her male Russian counterparts.

Working in the security and defense environment that is male dominated, Rose argued that women need to develop a thick skin. She related a number of instances of having experienced gender discrimination on a several levels. She argues that it has to be each woman’s own judgment call on how to deal with discrimination, and whether to use patience or assertiveness to get ahead. As men tend to go for a drink after work, she agreed that it is still hard to invite a man for a drink, but a discussion over lunch with key male colleagues to exchange information or broaden an analysis may be just as effective to get business done. As the spectrum of responsibilities widens with career progression – for example in her case at NATO having to be well versed in everything from conventional weapon systems to command structures to cyber and hybrid warfare and nuclear deterrence – she agrees that women still need to be better versed and excel in their areas of expertise to be taken seriously.

Rose stressed that NATO still has a long way to go. While it can boast a feminist Secretary General and a special advisor on gender attached to the private office as well as various communiques demonstrating a commitment to gender, the organization’s headquarter is still lacking policies that would lead to a more systemic change. As a woman and an American, Rose brings a bit of fresh air to Brussels. Her commitment to women’s professional advancement in the field of security provides an opportunity for NATO and the sector as a whole. As positions of Assistant Secretary Generals are to be reshuffled this summer, we hope that Rose will soon no longer be the only woman in a senior management position at NATO. and co-authoring a book titled Women Leading the Way in Brussels.”

Corinna Hörst is the President of WIIS Brussels and Deputy Director of the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels Office.

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Corinna Horst

Corinna Horst

WIIS Brussels President

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