Week Three – Women, Gender and Diplomacy

Participants have already contributed some 1,300 comments to Week Three (Women, Gender & Diplomacy) of our online course Diplomacy in the 21st Century.  The sheer volume of comments can make it hard to get more than a flavour of what people are saying, but here is an attempt at a snapshot:

  • The most surprising fact that emerged from the quiz and video that opened Week Three was that the “marriage bar” in the FCO was not lifted until 1973 – several participants found this hard to believe.  (Interestingly an article has just been republished about the women who were employed as cleaners and tealadies at the FCO – Char ladies of the Foreign Office, The Observer, February 1968 – which shows that the marriage bar applied to the worst-paid as well as the best-paid jobs.
  • The FCO Historians’ publication ‘Women & the Foreign Office: A History’ that traces the changes in the role of women in British diplomacy and is available to download on the course, proved popular – a story that sees resistance turn into assistance, as the Foreign Office transformed from an institution obstinately blocking women’s participation in diplomacy to one that sees gender equality as one of its core aims.
  • Several highlighted the practical tips provided in the blog by 13 women Ambassadors in Europe marking International Women’s Day, such as mentoring and advice such as: aim high, seek to be the change you want to see, and don’t forget to pay it forwards by supporting more junior colleagues.
  • Jill Gallard, former Human Resources Director, highlighted the FCO Board’s belief that we’re a better organisation if we ourselves reflect the diversity of the UK. Participants agreed and liked her emphasis on the importance of flexible HR policies, which also apply to men.
  • The ‘Who is your Star’ section produced by far the most comments – resulting in a truly diverse list of inspirational women ranging from Queens, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and First Ladies to wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and work colleagues with a lot more in between from all corners of the globe. We learned a lot about some amazing role models we might otherwise not have heard about.
  • The interview with Joanna Roper and the podcasts by FCO Women struck a chord with many participants: put yourself forward, have a go and don’t listen to the gremlins in your head telling you no.
  • Dr Jennifer Cassidy’s article asked the question ‘How to tackle gender disparity in diplomacy’ and triggered much debate on the issue of quotas (a good thing or a bad thing?)  Several participants made the point that appointments should always be made on merit rather than fulfilling a statistical requirement.  Others pointed to the role of positive action (as opposed to positive discrimination) in ensuring a level playing field for competition on merit.
  • Joanna Roper also spoke about her new role as the Special Envoy for Gender Equality and many participants referenced the importance of the work she is doing on girls’ education.

We hope that you found something useful in this week and that it provided food for thought.  Many thanks again to the academic experts who helped us in Week Three and to the FCO Women network and Gender Equality Unit who helped to pull the material together.

Reminding us that these issues are live, only this week the Head of the UK Diplomatic Service – inspired by Professor Mary Beard – tweeted a reminder that a dozen top jobs in British diplomacy have never been done by a woman – but watch this space..

Finally, some helpful links posted or suggested by participants re other Diplomatic Services:





Dr Isabel Warner and Jonathan Marshall


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