Guest Expert Michaela Monahan: Where are the women? How to find women experts in security

Oceans Beyond Piracy twitter engages maritime women
Oceans Beyond Piracy Communications Coordinator, Michaela Monahan, uses social media as a tool to find and engage with women experts.

This series brings attention to the expertise of women in a broad range of related fields, and provides tips and strategies for how to incorporate WPS into your current work.

Think women are not interested in piracy? Think again.

Recently, Communications Coordinator, Michaela Monahan, of Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), another program of One Earth Future, increased the number of female maritime security experts who follow OBP on social media from 11% to 34%, in just six months. Motivation to focus on increasing engagement with women in the field came after the shocking realization that so few of their thousands of followers were women. There had to be more women in maritime security than that. After all, women have been leaders at OBP from the start. When research revealed that women are significantly more active on social media than men, Michaela took a deep dive into Twitter to identify women experts in maritime security by using targeted hashtags and looking for women followers of related accounts. The response was overwhelming.

The key to her success: applying a gendered perspective to her work to amplify women’s voices and expertise in maritime security. Following is our interview with Michaela:

Why did you need, or want, to reach out to more female experts in the field of piracy?

"The inspiration was twofold. First, OBP’s 2017 New Year's message was focused on combatting maritime piracy with a broader mission of reporting and addressing other forms of violence at sea, and taking a more gendered approach. I was also looking for more interaction with our followers. We had a lot, but we were not really engaging with them.

Research over the last seven years indicates that the crime of piracy is closely linked with other illicit maritime activities. Therefore, OBP is starting to look at maritime crime more holistically, taking a more comprehensive approach to our overall strategy and programming. This meant that we needed to engage experts in the broader field of maritime security, not just piracy. Expanding our focus to a new space meant new partners, including female experts, who had not been a specific target area in the past.

Women have been leaders at OBP for many years. The first two State of Maritme Piracy Reports were written and managed by women, and six out of ten State of Maritime Piracy reports had female lead authors. So, we knew that there are females in this space—we are some of them. It was clear that that next step was to find others and make sure we are listening to their voices."

What did you do to find female experts in piracy?

"While researching I found an infographic titled “why women are the real power behind social media” and discovered that studies show women are much more active than men on social media and use it in more ways. Women not only use the top social media channels more than men in almost every network (except LinkedIn), but they are also more likely to engage and respond than men. It was clear that if I was looking for more engagement with experts in maritime security, especially with women, social media was the place.

Women experts exist in every security field – they are dynamic, prolific, and ready to engage.

Michaela Monahan

I started with conducting an audit of our following and found that the overwhelming majority of our followers were men—only around 11% were women. My goal was to find women with like interests, so my search started with a deep dive into accounts OBP follows, the current followers we had, and looked into Twitter users Our Secure Future recommended. I also started using new hashtags (#WomenInMaritime #MaritimeWomen) and looking at articles to see who was liking, sharing, and engaging with them.

One critical key to success on social media is to initiate contact, so when I found women maritime security experts I made sure to engage with their content and operated on the principle of reciprocity. Additionally, you have to be present in whatever network or community you are trying to engage with. I knew a lot of the maritime industry is in London and Africa, so I would make sure to be online during peak social media hours in those places. I also started inviting them to our events."

What were your results? What happened as a result of your outreach strategy on social media?

"Results far surpassed expectations. We got to write a paper about women's role in piracy prevention, received invites to conferences, were inspired with new ideas for projects within our program, gained new partners, and discovered existing partners who we had no idea were involved in gender equity and gender perspective. Also, as far as monitoring and evaluation goes, we continued to get new followers and our percentage of female followers went up dramatically, as did our mentions, shares, and impressions. Overall, it was a huge success."

What would you do differently or improve next time (on social media) to reach out to female experts?

"Be more prepared for the response. It was overwhelming. Women experts exist in every security field – they are dynamic, prolific, and ready to engage."

Do you think other people can use this strategy to find female experts international security—even if they don’t work on piracy?

"Yes. There are so many studies about how social media is a great place to meet new stakeholders or partners, and that women are exceedingly influential on social media. Remember, the key is to keep the relationship up. You might not get to see or talk to partners every day, but social media is a great way to keep in touch, share new ideas, and engage with new voices in the community."  

Follow Oceans Beyond Piracy @Piracy_OBP and Our Secure Future @OurSecureFuture on Twitter