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MARCH 2016





Women have made great strides, but more effort is needed to fulfill the

legal mandate for a Foreign Service that is “truly representative of the

American people throughout all levels.”


Andrea Strano retired on disability from the Foreign Service

in 2015. Before becoming an FSO in 2004, she worked for

the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Red

Cross in NewYork and Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C.,

and Geneva, Switzerland. She lives with her husband in Nutley, New

Jersey, where she writes, works as a voiceover artist and does volunteer

work. She can be reached at



he struggle for equality of opportunity

for Foreign Service women has been

long and lively. Ignited by legal chal-

lenges by Alison Palmer in 1968, it

continues today.

Tremendous progress has been

made. Fifty years after the first female

member of the Foreign Service, Lucile

Atcherson, was admitted in 1922,

women still made up less than 10 percent of the diplomatic

corps and faced systematic discrimination at the State Depart-

ment. Today, women comprise 35 percent of the overall Foreign

Service (including officers and specialists) at all foreign affairs

agencies and 40 percent of the Foreign Service officer corps.

Starting with the requirement for female FSOs to resign when

they get married, most of the institutionalized discrimination in

hiring, pay, promotion and other personnel policies has been


Yet there remains a lingering bias against women that is more

subtle, more difficult to get at. Often reported anecdotally, that

bias is also concretely reflected in such metrics as the male-

female gender breakdown by rank—as ranks increase, female

representation decreases. And though 40 percent of FSOs are

women, they hold only one-third of the chief-of-mission posi-

tions, for example.

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 mandates a diplomatic

service that is “truly representative of the American people

throughout all levels of the Foreign Service.” State Department

leadership has acknowledged the benefits of a diverse workforce

and demonstrating U.S. values to other countries through its

people. However, true representation remains elusive, including

for women.

The result is a Foreign Service that is not yet benefiting from

the full strength of the country that it represents.

Standard Bearer and Firebrand

Alison Palmer, who joined the State Department in 1955,

launched the legal battle for female equality at the State Depart-

ment in 1968 with the first equal employment opportunity (EEO)

complaint ever heard from the Foreign Service. She followed

Foreign Service

Women Today:

The Palmer Case andBeyond