Unfortunately, the number of women in senior diplomatic positions is seriously underrepresented, and women are still struggling to break into the diplomatic hierarchy without settling for a compromise. It took the United Kingdom 191 years to finally appoint the first female Head of Mission, and in 2010, women fill only 21.8% of senior management positions from 260 diplomatic missions.1 As a traditionally male domain, existing power structures within the diplomatic infrastructure remain to reinforce gender inequalities and overt discriminatory practices, making it difficult for women to enter diplomacy at the highest position. Using the United Kingdom (UK) as a case study, this paper critically examines gender hierarchy as a key problem to the advancement of women, and explores a variety of practical solutions to breaking centuries of patriarchal tradition.
Key research questions have been explored to illustrate the scope and depth of this paper:
Bringing Women into Diplomacy
From Diplomatic Wives to Career Diplomats
Male government officials relied on women’s unpaid labour in order to maintain relations with their political counterparts. By the end of the nineteenth century, diplomacy and hostessing became tightly intertwined to the extent that women married to diplomats were unable to do little else.7 In fact, diplomatic wives were often too busy running large diplomatic households, presiding as hostesses, maintaining influential contacts to complement official embassy work, and doing volunteer work in the local community to even pursue their own career. Voluntary work provided by women was wholly acceptable by men, as Sir William Strang in 1955 emphasised that “the higher grades of the Service will have an important social role, which is likely to keep [diplomatic wives] fully employed”.8 Before women were admitted as diplomats, diplomatic wives played a vital role in bridging relations between male members from different diplomatic missions. While their work was undervalued by the government, male diplomats depended on their wives’ cooperation as they not only acted as a “safe sounding-board” to try out ideas on, but helped to advance the husband’s career by being the “eyes and ears” at functions.9 Gathering intelligence is an essential task for diplomats, and diplomacy works best when trust and confidence is built between officials. As such, diplomatic wives were entrusted with the duty of creating an atmosphere in the residence where diplomats from different states could get to know each other “man to man” and talk business off the record.10
At the time, Britain was lagging behind the rest of the world in employing women in the diplomatic service. Unlike the residential duties of diplomatic wives, it wasn’t until 1946 that women were given the opportunity to become career diplomats, though in principle this could have been done much sooner. In 1919, the Sex Disqualification Act was established to create equal opportunities for women applying to the Diplomatic and Consular Service.11 However, the Foreign Office remained resolutely opposed to recruiting female diplomats on the basis that single women would be too open to foreign temptations and would not be taken seriously by foreign governments.12 According to the Schuster Committee in 1934, many prejudices and fears resonated amongst male diplomats in admitting women into the diplomatic service. Arguments concluded that single female diplomats, who may live alone, would stimulate “undesirable comment[s]” in ‘uncivilised’ countries, which would embarrass male officers.13 There were also particular reservations that the Foreign Service would be turned into a matrimonial bureau, considering that single women who married diplomats would have to leave the service. The marriage bar instructed single women “in the event of your marriage you would be required to resign [the] appointment”.14 As a result, no fewer than 25% of newly wedded women had to leave the service.15 While being single meant that women were ‘vulnerable’, married female diplomats posed potential threats to taking over posts reserved for married male diplomats, consequently undervaluing the masculine domination for power. These discriminatory assumptions were poorly compared to the example of Gertrude Bell, who as an unmarried Middle Eastern specialist became a key player in the Anglo-Arab relations during the immediate post-war period. Nonetheless, the Foreign Service remained staunch in maintaining its patriarchal management system.
The Plowden Report of 1962 provided many positive contributions of women’s work, which led to changes in introducing gender equality measures in the diplomatic service. The report surmised, “women officers should be employed as widely as possible in the Diplomatic Service [as] we received no evidence which would suggest that women in the Foreign Service have proved ‘tender plants’”.16 Equal pay for women became fully implemented, and the marriage bar was finally withdrawn in 1972, which enabled married women to become employable again without discriminatory stipulation. However, the policy was slow in practice as women in the most senior posts were all unmarried even as far as 1985.17 No woman was appointed Head of a British diplomatic post before the early 1970s, and the first married female Head of Consulate wasn’t until 1987.18 The admission and promotion of women continued to be a relative problem even after these changes were implemented. In fact during the 1990s, women, who used this tactic to receive the respect and promotion they deserved, reported 6,583 cases of breaching the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975.19
In 1986, the Foreign Office offered Sue Darling Rogerson the post of Deputy High Commissioner in the Zambian mission. However, the offer was withdrawn because it was claimed that a female Second Secretary was already serving in the political department of the Zambian embassy and that an “all-female political section would have been operationally ineffective in a male-dominated society”.20 At the time of the case, there were only two women in Britain’s top 154 Foreign Service posts and only 27 women among its 436 first secretaries, therefore the FCO were in breach of the Act as their claim for refusal was unacceptable.21 Likewise, female diplomats still face prejudice when the press repeatedly ask questions like “How old are you?” “Are you married?” “When will you have time to have children?” “Do you find it difficult to cope with this?”22
Undeniably, such basic queries would never be asked of a male diplomat who was either single or married, which questions society’s attitudes towards female diplomats.
Gender Mainstreaming in the British Diplomatic Service
At an international level, the UN has played a key role in developing laws and institutional practices in promoting the rights and involvement of women through gender mainstreaming. In the early years of the UN, the advancement of women took the form of promoting political and civil rights, particularly the right to vote, and focused on breaking down discriminatory national laws such as matters concerning family and marriage. Nowadays, gender mainstreaming concepts are tied very closely to human rights initiatives advocated by the UN through international laws such as the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325). The passing of SCR 1325 in October 2000 became the first celebrated resolution that acknowledges the political contribution of women in the context of peace and security. Accordingly, SCR 1325 provides a critical legal and political framework through which women worldwide can claim a space for their views to be heard on peace and security matters as the resolution calls for full participation of women as high-level representatives.24 SCR 1325 became a monumental political tool of empowerment especially for women in countries with weak judicial systems. The resolution particularly challenges masculine domination and harmful gendered practices such as rape and female genital mutilation (FGM) that have served to reinforce the subordination of women.25 In regards to women’s position in high-level politics, the resolution explicitly urges Member States “to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions”.26 By placing gender concerns within the UN's official mandate, SCR 1325, complemented by resolution 1820, 1888 and 1889, provides legitimate state duties in ensuring that women have equal access and full participation to power infrastructures by legally forcing the increase of women in decision-making and leadership roles.27
The adoption of CEDAW in 1979 legally defined gender discrimination as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex…”28 Gender mainstreaming concepts outlined in CEDAW are reflected in much of the UK’s currently working and legal practices. CEDAW also fortified women’s solidarity campaigns in ensuring that laws are upheld by governments to the highest standard, specifically when regarding the formation of new policies. The 1995 government report on CEDAW highlights that “the Convention serves principally as a useful framework for review of progress on a similar standing with that of other United Nations Conventions which the UK has ratified”.29 This broad statement clearly establishes that the government considers its national sex discrimination laws to be substantial in protecting the working rights of women, though reviews made by the Women’s National Commission (WNC) are taken into consideration during assessment sessions. As pointed by the report, the WNC was formed to act as an advisory board to the government in consulting policy issues that could affect women.3 Regrettably, the WNC was forced to close as part of the government’s economic restructuring programme in 2010. As a result, the government have now pushed women’s issues to the bottom of the political agenda, which leaves them open to public scrutiny in breaking its promise on women’s advancement.
By Satow’s description, the essential task of a diplomat is the management of international relations: namely, to preserve peace and reduce hostilities with other states by utilising soft power tools of negotiation and communication. Unlike NGOs and other organised groups which survive on minimum resources, diplomats have considerable assets at their disposal that can be deployed in supporting policy goals and programmes like human rights and democratic development, so long as such action is also beneficial to the diplomat’s overall mission.
When interviewing diplomats about what their job entails, the most common answer was to promote Britain’s commercial interest, enhance security for the UK, and support British nationals living abroad. To successfully achieve any of these objectives, peace must be a pre-requisite condition, for without peace, British expatriates will be under threat and business engagements with the host nation will suffer gravely. According to WILPF, peace is “the absence of violence in any given society, both internal, external, direct and indirect… [in which] every member of that society, through non-violent means, participate[s] equally in decisional power”.41 As such, maintaining peace is crucial to the work of diplomacy as the option to resort to war, though part of the diplomatic mandate, is deemed a failure of diplomacy.42 Certainly, achieving and maintaining peace has always been at the heart of negotiations led by women’s organisations, as armed conflict and war have reduced women to become victims of gender-based aggression. Women are often amongst the first to speak out against war and are quick to act in preventing escalation by digging into root causes of the problem.43 Claudia Fritsche, former Liechtenstein Ambassador to the U. S., stated that understanding the impact that armed conflict has on women is fundamental to effectively promoting and maintaining international peace and security.44 An estimated 80% of internally displaced refugees are women and children due to violent conflict and non-military threats alike.45 Sexual violence, trafficking and other gender-specific crimes that deprive women from being protected under the law routinely threaten women in conflict. This, in turn, places women in further danger of becoming entangled in organised crime and act as part of a threat towards the instability of international security. Shoma Chatterji argued that because women as a gender have been “structurally disempowered, excluded and subjugated”, women provide different perspectives and acute insights into situations where unequal power relationships exist.46 Diplomacy is reactive in nature but rather than jumping straight into action, women are willing to consider options more carefully for a longer period of time than men until the right route for action is found.47
According to Carol Gillighan, psychologist at Harvard University, “women have greater moral strength, they have higher ethical standards and a particular ability to establish and maintain relationship with people… [so] have the qualities of a contemporary political actor”.48 In the diplomatic world, such qualities are necessary to ensure that relationships between states are developed and maintained accordingly. In her mission to Tashkent, HE Barbara Hay noticed that being a woman has made it easier for her to connect with people and break down barriers.49 Four other diplomats who agreed that being female has helped them to interact with people of all levels verified her statement.50 According to one diplomat, it seems that both male and female diplomats find it easier to interact with female colleagues than males because they are less threatening.51 Men are prone to competitive behaviour so the lack of ‘real’ competition from women enables them to freely divulge information, which they would have normally kept from male colleagues within the business environment. Personal contact is important in developing good relationships with key ministers, therefore when the time comes to engage in talks, women would theoretically have the upper hand.
Women are also prone to look differently at certain scenarios than men, especially when considering the multiplicity of new actors and the problems transferred from former patriarchal structures. For instance, there is a certain stereotypical expectation that women are inherently peace loving. Yet, when the media portrays a woman strapping bombs on herself as an act of rebellion to the system, this action is deemed shocking by the Western world who would typically expect men to commit acts of terrorism.52 Considering gender perspectives in policy formation may potentially provide new insight to old solutions. As Stearns explains, “To identify a gender variable is to identify specific contexts in which gender makes a difference in explaining (state) actions in the ‘real’ world.”53 Gender analysis offers a way of anticipating future consequences of existing inequalities and seeks to prevent future reproduction of the same problem, which is a useful foresight tool that many female diplomats have taken on board.54 Finding solutions to the root cause of many insecurity and inequality issues is one reason as to why women make effective diplomats. Mary Jordan highlighted how female ambassadors tend to focus on underlying factors of larger problems, bringing issues such as poverty, family structures, health care and the lack of safe drinking water into discussions.55 Without addressing human security issues, countries will remain to be impoverished in terms of health, wealth and safety. Powerful women such as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mary Robinson have put such issues onto the political agenda by integrating gender mainstreaming and analysis as part of their public diplomacy campaign.
On her trips abroad, Hillary Clinton as the U. S. Secretary of State has made it clear that improving health, education and employment prospects of women is vital in promoting business and local stability.56 Similarly, when Mary Robinson was appointed as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, she had prioritised the mainstreaming of women’s human rights as an essential institutional mechanism in the UN system.57 This is a notable illustration of how women in senior policy positions can exert considerable influence towards the interest of women. Diplomats are trained as policy-capable practitioners, and as such must be able to analyse the international situation, examine relevant factors to the problem, and come up with effective yet practical answers to the problem.58 Even if particular national objectives may constrain diplomats to wholeheartedly pursuing women’s interests, they can at least bring to gender issues to the attention of foreign leaders for consideration.
Also, connecting with local people and NGOs directly has provided leverage for female diplomats in creating a strong diplomatic bond with the host nation. Upon her appointment in 2003, HE Thorda Abbott-Watt co-operated closely with the English-speaking Union of Armenia as a means to promote educational development and cultural ties between Armenia and the UK.59 Likewise, the British Embassy in Eritrea, headed by HE Sandra Tyler-Haywood, assisted in training local women in leadership; project management and maternity care to empower them to find local work opportunities.60 It seems that women are more eager than men to tap into locally based NGO expertise as a means to better connect with local people and gauge deeper understanding about the country in which these diplomats are operating.
When regarding the skill of negotiation, women have proven themselves to be capable of deciding what is in their best interest whilst making moral judgements that are rational.61 Terry Greenbelt, speaking before the UN Security Council in May 2002, stated that governments need women because “women are willing to sit together on the same side of the table… with the commitment and intention of not getting up until – in respect and reciprocity – we can get up together and begin our new history”.62 The willingness to negotiate and hammer out solutions is an innate trait in women, as the process of engaging in negotiations requires patience, cooperation, listening carefully and mutual understanding. As suggested by HE Frances Guy, women are often better negotiators as they are not put off by male egos that take over negotiations and have the stamina and determination to take no for an answer.63 Even Sir Harold Nicholson’s description of what makes an ideal diplomat falls neatly into traits associated with the modern women, affirming that “the qualities of my ideal diplomatist [is]… Truth, accuracy, calm, patience, good temper, modesty and loyalty.”64 Female negotiators have also been reported to throw men off balance in their negotiating strategy, as men feel as though they are arguing with their wife.65 Conducting foreign policy is a representation of exercising power, so being undermined by an argumentative woman can theoretically demean some men.
Women make effective diplomats as they also have access to areas that are otherwise restricted to male diplomats. As part of preventive diplomacy measures, diplomats must be able to tap into the whole of society in order to analyse and anticipate future threats in vulnerable areas. In certain parts of the world where gender segregation is prevalent, men are not able to openly reach out to women and, therefore, are only able to consider half the population within their analysis. As women, female diplomats have access to 50% more of the population, specifically in rural and conservative societies, and are hence able to ensure that the voice and concerns of women are not ignored. The presence of a female diplomat can also be considered symbolic for local women, especially if she is the only female ambassador serving in the country. Since female diplomats are far and few, local people notice when a woman is appointed Ambassador, and therefore look up to her an authentic role model. According to an interviewed diplomat, being the only female ambassador provided her with opulent opportunity to being filmed at public events, which in turn allowed her to raise certain gender-related issues, such as female genital mutilation (FGM) to be considered into the political agenda in countries where such practices are regarded as cultural norms.66 For the ambassador to speak out about FGM helped to save the lives of many women, as FGM practices often cause death due to procedural side effects. Issues raised by diplomats are no small feats, and EU coordination further ensures that all issues advocated by one diplomat is taken seriously by a group of ambassadors.67 So long as their interference in local issues is justified, diplomats can support feminist ideology and ensure that policy-makers take into account the whole population when determining future threats and opportunities of the host country.
Equality and Empowerment Strategies
Presently, the British Foreign Service is made up of 14,400 people working in over 170 countries, out of which, 44% of current UK FCO employees are women.68 Although the female employment rate in Britain is just under half, the number of senior level female diplomats remains tentatively low because many young women cannot juggle work with family commitments. This chapter will discuss the FCO recruitment process, examine existing barriers that hinder the advancement of female diplomats, and will recommend solutions that are currently in practice by other diplomatic missions. Much of this analysis is drawn from interviews given by FCO-HR and female Heads of Mission.
The Diplomatic Service certainly offers challenging and exciting opportunities for candidates, which is why the number of new recruits over the years have grown. Between January-November 2009, a total of 4,070 people had applied to the British Diplomatic Service with a split of 2,013 female candidates and 2,057 male candidates. Out of the total applications competing in the entrance exams, only 3% were successful, of which 58% were female.72 The success rate from 1990 to 2010 has shifted up by 2%.73 Diplomats who were interviewed had verified that in many British Embassies, there are far more female junior staff than men. Considering that more women are securing posts at the FCO, we can speculate that Britain may be able to achieve gender equality within senior management in the next 15-20 years. Currently, a woman leads about one in five of Britain’s senior management teams and the number of female Heads of Mission has steadily risen from having 11 senior females in 1999 to 30 in 2010.74 While this number is an improvement, the fact remains that women are still underrepresented in top diplomatic positions. One of the reasons to why there is limited recruitment of senior women is due to the limited number of senior positions that are available in the FCO’s internal job market. All diplomats have the option of bidding for a job, and as expected, the more senior the role, the harder and more competitive it becomes. An interviewed diplomat admitted that when she bid for her current ambassadorial post, she was in competition with 15-20 other applicants who were all FCO employees.75 Recruitment into the diplomatic service is regulated by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 which states that “a person’s selection must be on merit on the basis of fair and open competition”, irrespective of gender.76 However, outreach programmes such as the FCO’s diversity team, the FCO’s Women’s Association and the Board Champion for Women are active in supporting efforts to improve female representation at the top of the FCO.77
The FCO places heavy emphasis on the importance of ‘diversity’ as a key strategy to ensuring equality and fairness in its recruitment process. As stated on its website, the FCO aims “to be a world leader in embracing and harnessing difference; creating equality of opportunity; and eliminating discrimination” by acknowledging a kind of diversity that goes beyond gender.78 The FCO aims to be a leader in diversity and inclusions as an employer, policy developer and provider by 2013, by strategically highlighting the themes of culture and behaviour, leadership and accountability, talent management and representation.79 As a multicultural and multi-religious society, the British Diplomatic Service must be representative of modern Britain that is not made up of Oxford graduates with former private school Christian upbringing. According to 1998 statistics, 3% of the service was made up of ethnic minorities, with 62% of graduate intakes from institutions other than Oxbridge.80 Even if the FCO did have a clear 50/50 split of men and women, the Diversity Scheme (as examined in Chapter 2) ensures that candidates of different religion, cultural, and educational background are included in the overall demographic of the British Diplomatic Service.
In the case of one diplomat, her appointment as ambassador caused negative backlash amongst officials in Azerbaijan who stated in their national media that sending a female diplomat downgraded the level of importance with their relationship with the UK.83 It seems that men take women less seriously as they are depicted to being less authoritative and assertive. Like many professions, men tend to play the diplomatic field like a game, whereby competitive behaviour is the norm. According to one diplomat, men are often concerned with how their actions will reflect on their personal status and whether the outcome will make them look good.84 This behavioural trait is less likely to be found in women, and therefore, women are more inclined to flag an issue even if it is difficult.
One diplomat illustrated that before she became an ambassador, being female meant being ignored while the male group discussed women and sports.85 By using sporting metaphors like “Playing with a straight bat”, “It came out of left field” as an unconscious form of conversation, women instinctively feel left out by senior male peers.86 Likewise, a diplomat who successfully secured a posting in Russia was later denied the job to a “favourite son” who was better favoured for the role than she. Although the posting was secured to her at a later stage, the issue of gender came up as a potential problem to her denial.87 While patriarchal mentality remains unconsciously intact in the minds of senior male officials, women are inclined to feel much more pressured to prove themselves to peers that they are capable of doing the job. Once this proof has been demonstrated, only then is the female ambassador respected and taken seriously.88 Despite the change of policies welcoming women into the diplomatic hierarchy, many of the Boards and Leadership Forums are dominated by men and ignore existing patriarchal bias that make it difficult for women to break through. As a result, the ‘old boy’s network’ still exists within the FCO.
Reconciling work and family
While it is typical for wives to accompany male ambassadors to missions and keep their family in tow, it seems that husbands do not reciprocate the same treatment to their ambassador wife. HE Angele Niyuhire of Burundi stated that “It’s considered normal if a woman goes with her husband [to missions] but it’s not seen as the same if a husband goes”, which highlights a new challenge for female diplomats.92 Men often regard their career as central to their self-identity and may therefore be unwilling to give up their job to become fully-fledged diplomatic husbands. The situation is further complicated if the diplomat posted abroad has a spouse with an independent career outside of the diplomatic service.93 When journalist Mary Jordan interviewed female ambassadors in Washington about their marital status, 4 out of 8 diplomats admitted to being divorced while the other half said their husbands did not accompany them to the U. S. because of their own jobs.94 Unless one’s job is in a highly transferable field such as nursing, IT, teaching or translating, it may be difficult for the spouse to secure, or even be allowed to work abroad. Also, the pay gap between men and women in British professions (outside of diplomacy) may justify the need for men to continue their career away from their diplomatic wife, especially if the husband is maintaining family responsibilities at home.
The family balance is also complex if the couple are both career diplomats. In consideration to a few interviews, it was apparent how little opportunity there is to have both male and female diplomats in the same mission, especially when the availability of senior posts is already limited.95 In seeking possible solutions to the work-life balance, the most common answer provided by female diplomats was the need for support from family and the Foreign Office. According to Australian Ambassador Margaret Adamson, “we [women] need formal and informal support: from a mate to talk things through with, later supplemented by a circle of friends, to institutional support arrangements within our organizations.”96 The husband can provide direct support if he were to join his wife’s mission as a diplomatic husband or secure a job in the same location. While this role reversal is not as common as a wife joining her husband, evidence has shown that some men are willing to leave their career.97 Alternatively, diplomatic couples can apply for job-sharing posts that provide absolute flexibility. Since 2008, High Commissioner Tom Carter and Carolyn Davidson took up their second diplomatic job-share in Zambia, whereby the couple alternate 4 months from being a diplomat to a diplomatic spouse.98 If job-shares are not possible, the other option is for couples to compete for posts that are in the same region. In 2005, Ambassador John and Judith Macgregor were fortunate to be posted in Austria and Slovakia within commuting distance of 40 miles.99
For diplomats with partners and children, the Foreign Office must find ways to adjust working hours in order to appropriately maximise efficiency. Flexible working opportunities is an innovation that needs to be fully implemented within the diplomatic infrastructure by providing compressed hours, crèche facilities, and IT solutions to work from home. By offering flexible terms and conditions, women (and men) have more options in taking career breaks to suit family circumstances. The FCO provides flexibility by allowing staff to take time off in lieu by working long hours in one week and short the next. This enables staff to build up toil for further deductible hours but it does not mean that short working hours will remain consistent.100 Regrettably, the FCO provides limited options to facilitating working mothers in comparison to other ministries. According to Annette Séverey, the German Foreign Ministry provides more than a 100 different types of part-time schemes primarily for female diplomats, including 15 to 34 hours a week option.101 In Austria, flexibility is provided through generous maternity schemes that allow women and men the right to go on maternity leave until their child enters school, whilst also being financially supported by the ministry for 2 years. In addition, parents have the right to work part-time hours should they wish during maternity leave, or at least have their post reserved for them until they return to work within Austria.102 In comparison, the UK offers 52 weeks of maternity leave and six months of statutory paid allowance with limited opportunity to work part-time at an ambassadorial level.103 The FCO falls short of providing childcare facilities to diplomats in and outside of the UK. Reports have shown that kindergartens and childcare centres inside of, or within walking distance of the ministry, in Italy, Australia and Austria has greatly facilitated the needs of women.104 When interviewed, the FCO was unable to provide any information regarding childcare matters.
Some of the policies mentioned are bound to be costly endeavours for the government. However recognising the different needs of women is a starting point in addressing the changes that are required in achieving gender balance. For many female diplomats, it is often difficult to plan a family around a demanding job that has traditionally served to benefit men. Even today, women are often faced with the dilemma of choosing between marriage and their career, simply because there is not enough infrastructural support provided by the diplomatic system or from partners who may fear the challenge of rearing a family by themselves. As highlighted by Squires, women’s “differences” are depicted as a “problem” but the special needs of women must be dealt with if women are to compete with men “in races where rules have not been designed with them in mind”.105 If women choose to spend their lives serving their country offshore, they should not be punished for momentarily leaving their post for personal family priorities. The FCO has made some progress in establishing flexibility, yet much work is needed to provide full benefits to retaining women in their hour of need. Recommendations to this particular predicament will be discussed in the final chapter.
Tools of Empowerment
Squires argues that the implementation of the quota system, together with the policy of gender mainstreaming, will secure greater gender equality within political processes.109 However the quota system is perceived as a highly unfavourable strategy amongst British women. When asking diplomats as to whether they have ever been posted on missions based on gender, the response was that they would rather refuse the job than become a token female appointment because it undermines the hard work of other women.110 Gender quotas ignore the qualitative capabilities of female candidates and does not judge whether candidates are actually suitable for the role to which they are applying. Accordingly, quotas bring in “unpredictable form of group representation” which overrides the policy of fairness and equal opportunities developed by the FCO.111 In 1993, the Labour party did try to encourage women to take up vacant seats in parliament, including seats of retiring Labour MPs.112 However the policy was viewed as highly contentious and was replaced by an improved Sex Discrimination Act in 2002. Within the same year, the FCO set out a target of 15% female representation in the senior management structure with the Board firmly stating that this number was a target, not a quota as they are “not in the business of positive discrimination.”113 This statement was re-affirmed by FCO-HR, who in the interview, said that “all appointments are made on performance at interview which is based on the competencies outlined in the relevant information for candidates.”114 While the UK has supported a number of projects advocating the introduction of quotas for non-democratic countries, it is safe to assume that the FCO will not be adopting the quota system directly into its own policy process anytime soon.
One of the most significant progresses of empowerment has been labelled the ‘Hillary Effect’ in the U. S. Since the appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, the number of accredited female ambassadors to Washington DC has risen from 5 in the 1990s to 25 in 2010.119 This includes Hunaina Sultan Al-Mughairy who is Washington’s first female ambassador from an Arab state, Meera Shankar as India’s first female ambassador in over 50 years, and Carolina Barco as Latin America’s only female ambassador in Washington. Having a role model figure gives women something to aspire to as they provide positive examples on how to manage work and private life whilst also proving their capability in the diplomatic hierarchy. Realising that a woman can do the job as effectively as anyone else drives women to adopt a different attitude towards their own progression. Dame Denise Holt, who recently retired as the British Ambassador to Madrid, was depicted as a good role model for proving that women could progress up the hierarchal ladder at a time when there were even fewer senior women in the FCO.120 Similarly, HE Barbara Hay instilled confidence to newly appointed senior diplomats by dealing with protocol issues, such as hosting events and charitable work.121 Support is vital when transferring from the role of Deputy to Head of Mission as the level of responsibility can make one feel so exposed that the new ambassador begins to question her ability to do the job.122 Positive reinforcement is also a highly valuable tool in boosting confidence and moral. One diplomat recalled being indirectly praised by a highly senior official as an important achievement for her because she was recognised for widely networking with the general population and top officials.123
Role models are also relevant in empowering local women in host countries. In several interviews, diplomats stated that their presence alone was a significantly driver for female official in host countries to develop their careers.124 Promotional opportunities within embassies are limited, so women at the bottom of the ladder are more inclined to feel unconsciously incompetent in their position, thus affecting their confidence in team environments. Senior female diplomats have helped to improve confidence of subordinate members by ensuring that junior women are included, rather than ignored, in groups that are often male-dominated.125 It is important to show that women can achieve senior level positions, and by engaging with a role model women are able to share problems in a supportive environment, which in turn helps them to realise that they are not the only ones experiencing a particular problem.126 By overcoming confidence issues as a group, women are better equipped to conquer barriers that would otherwise stall their progression.
Making female diplomats more visible in the mass media not only signals a modernisation on the image of diplomacy, but also brings to focus how women are an important component to foreign policy. The more presence women have in the media, the more socially acceptable it will become to appoint women in top ambassadorial position in high-profile locations. Images of strong women have dominated US media to the point where other countries are beginning to appreciate the impact that women have in influencing national prioritises. According to HE Amelia Matos Sumbana, the media visibility of Hillary Clinton has made it easier “for presidents to pick a woman for Washington” especially in countries where politics is still closed off to women.130 While the purpose of the media is to send a message, female diplomats have found that they receive better media coverage because people are curious about them. As the only female Arab ambassador to Washington, HE Hunaina Al-Mughairy is using the media to raise the profile of Oman as a serious international player and dispelling out-dated stereotypes by using herself as proof that Arab women have the same rights as men everywhere.131
While the media has been effective in moving smaller countries up the international ladder, some British ambassadors agree that the media is unlikely to cover the appointments of female diplomats in the UK.132 Considering that women have been accredited diplomats for over 40 years, the news of a new female appointee is unlikely to gain media coverage as much as marginalised Afghan women being sent as diplomats to the US. However, female diplomats should use the media to their advantage to champion the rights of women and bring to light the absence of female ambassadors in the EU and the US as a means to debate the imbalance of equality between male and female diplomats. Furthermore media presence can also break down the misconception that the British Diplomatic Service is made up of “white, male, middle-class and Oxbridge [who]…all still wear bowler hats” by showcasing the number of women that work for the FCO.133
Conclusion and Recommendations
It would be hasty to state that gender hierarchy will disappear once women and men are equally represented in diplomacy. Yet making women’s experiences visible allows us to see how gender relations have contributed to the way in which the diplomatic system works. The management structure of the FCO used to discriminate to the point where women could never attain ambassadorial status. When the marriage bar was finally lifted, stereotypical attitudes of women’s abilities created fresh barriers of advancement. When women proved their abilities in stressful climates and conditions, the attitudes of those from other nations caused diplomatic strain between them and the UK. Now women endure the double burden of balancing work and family responsibility, and unfortunately the current management system is unable to fully support the needs of women and their spouse in overcoming this obstacle.
While gender legislation in the UK is continually improving to ensure women are protected from discrimination and patriarchal attitudes, women must be able to overcome the gender hierarchy by allowing themselves to apply for senior posts that are typically held by men. Promoting gender equality and increasing women’s presence in diplomacy is an important feature of overcoming gender hierarchy, and can be done if women believe in their own abilities. Once women are inspired to aim high, they will become encouraged to compete with peers for top positions at international organisations, and slowly reform the patriarchal system. We must remember that men and women are equal, but different – different, because of innate characteristics and abilities that come with the gender territory. Therefore, it is also important to remember that family issues faced by women also affect men. Just as it is not easy for women to part with their family, the same can be said for men, who must now take into consideration the careers of their wife. The system, which men have built, does not suit the interests and needs of women, but if the numbers of senior women rise over the coming decades, the design and shape of policy will slowly change to address the requirements of families to a satisfactory level.
Of course there is concern that pursuing one form of equality may serve to displace another from the political agenda. To fulfil the FCO’s promise of representing a diverse Britain, we need to take into consideration not just the inclusion of women, but also class-based inequalities, ethnic minorities, a mixture of educational backgrounds, and diversity to include race, disability, age, and religious equality. However due to lack of time and space, it was impossible to analyse these categories in isolation. This study could have also benefitted from a cross-comparative examination of diplomats from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to better represent the study of Great Britain’s diplomacy. The FCO promotes ‘diversity’ to the highest esteem and the inclusion and equality of all people in the categories mentioned above is that for which the FCO should inevitably strive.
Short Term Proposal
Minimum Target: The FCO should reach its intended target of attaining 15% of women in senior diplomatic roles, until which the target will be diminished and replaced by gender mainstreaming practices as part of its good management solution.
Role Model Scheme: A Role Model Scheme should be set up within the FCO and in every British embassy to provide motivation for female junior staff to apply for higher positions early on their career. Role models will usually be women of senior rank and meetings will be arranged four times a year per season as an informal appraisal. This can be reduced to twice a year to save time and resource.
Media Presence: Senior female diplomats should be encouraged to take print and broadcast media interviews as a means to break down the gender stereotype. Media presence will help promote the image of women, the mission and the nation.
Combat Stereotype: Male circles in the Diplomatic Service should be encouraged to devise strategies to identify possible solutions to the existing gender equality problems to combat stereotypes and achieve national equality.
European Women’s Network: A network of female diplomats should be set up to exchange experience and encourage members in confidence-building and networking exercises.
Long Term Proposal
Flexible Working Schemes: The FCO should look into providing diplomats with various flexible hour schemes rather than building up toil. By developing various schemes, diplomats will have the opportunity to choose the hours which are better suited to their needs. This scheme will assist diplomats in maximising their contribution to the missions whilst also tending to the needs of their family within a scheduled timetable. While away from the Embassy, diplomats will be expected to work certain hours off-site to remain on the post on a permanent basis.
Implementing International Legislations: In combination to national laws, the Diplomatic Service must take into consideration the undertakings of international conventions and legislations. SCR 1325 and other gender-related conventions should ideally reflect both domestic and foreign policies to maintain gender-mainstreaming practices in all fields at all levels.
Boards and Leadership Forums: FCO executive boards such as the Women’s Association, the diversity team, and the Board Champion for Women must consist of equal numbers of men and women so that opinion and strategy formation is not dominated by men. Equal representation will help eliminate existing patriarchal bias that makes it difficult for women to break through.
Multilateral Organisation: The FCO must recommend at least two female candidates of relatively competitive experience to apply to senior positions within the EU, NATO, UN and any other multilateral organisation. To avoid ‘positive discrimination’ scrutiny, the FCO may also recommend two male candidates in addition to compete for the position. This will encourage women to openly compete for top diplomatic positions.
Gender Mainstreaming: The Diplomatic Service must train all staff on gender mainstreaming practices and make this training inclusive to new recruits. Gender mainstreaming should also become a common feature in oral entrance exams to calculate the level of gender sensitivity candidates have prior to recruitment.
Gender Analysis: Gender analysis should be made subject to policy-making processes in order to develop new policy perspectives that avoid structural gender bias.