Women in Diplomacy

Talyn Rahman-Figueroa, CEO of Grassroot Diplomat, provides a summary on her recent work in the role of women in diplomacy.

This assessment of the role of women in the British diplomatic service and the difficulties they have faced and can still face in breaking through the “glass ceiling” may be echoed in most of the world’s diplomatic corps. It would be of interest to this journal to learn of the experiences of diplomats serving in other services and how they have fared. Perhaps a reader would provide us with an update on women in the U.S. Foreign Service now that Secretaries Albright, Rice and Clinton have affected the status of women in the State Department? 

The 21st century brings a host of fresh challenges into the diplomatic world. The economic crisis is testing the strength of the most powerful nations. Climate change is extinguishing lands and inhabitants, proving to be more devastating than war. The rate of refugees is flooding cities that are already over-populated. New challenges require solutions provided by fresh insight from relatively new candidates. A male-dominated representation of diplomacy is no longer viable within an interconnected world where women matter. Diplomats must be able to represent the whole of society without remaining blinded to gender. As such, bringing women into diplomacy is a symbol of hope and modernisation for the 21st century.

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:

  • If diplomacy is supposed to reflect all of society, why are women still marginalised in the diplomatic hierarchy?
  • Why does gender hierarchy exist in diplomacy?
  • Why are women necessary in diplomacy?
  • What is obstructing women from becoming ambassadors?
  • What are women currently doing in overcoming gender hierarchy?
  • How can management promote better representation of women in diplomacy?