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MARCH 2016



No More Old Boys’ Club



Shawn Dorman is the editor of

The Foreign Service Journal.

in hiring, pay and benefits have largely

been wiped away (thank you, Alison

Palmer, the Women’s Action Organiza-

tion and other pioneers); and women are

out leading teams, USAID missions and

embassies around the world.

Is the Foreign Service truly equal and

representative of America? Not yet. Do

problems for women persist? Absolutely.

Are there still more men than women in

top positions? Yes.

This month we consider women in the

Foreign Service with a look back, a look

ahead and a few ideas for keeping a posi-

tive trend going.

In “Foreign Service Women Today: The Palmer Case and Beyond,” former

FSO Andrea Strano takes a look at the

legacy of the women who led the charge

to advance the status of women, which

gathered momentum during the 1970s.

FSOs Thao Anh Tran and Kristin Stewart at Embassy Panama City sha


a model for using the Federal Women’s

Program at post for career network-

ing and mentoring. And former USAID

Senior Foreign Service Officer Erin Soto

shares “Ten Leadership Tips for Aspiring Women.”

We take a jump into the past with

stories of female diplomats during dif-

ferent decades. Retired FSO Andrea

Farsakh shares her experience as “A Pioneer in Saudi Arabia” in the 1970


and 1980s. And we travel back to the

1940s and 1950s “On Assignment with Maxine Desilet,” whose letters home an


efficiency reports from Berlin, Caracas

and Rangoon illustrate the times as no

couple years ago I was invited

to talk about women in diplo-

macy with middle and high

schoolers at an all-girls school

in Manhattan during a special “women

in the world”-themed day. The more I

thought about what to say to these very

young women—most of whom had never

heard of the Foreign Service—the more I

“leaned in” to the realization that the

Foreign Service offers a pretty darn great

career for women.

Progress over the past 50 years has

been dramatic. The early decades of the

Foreign Service were very white and very

male, with rare exceptions. Until 1972,

women who did make it into the Service

had to resign if they married. This left few

women to climb the ranks.

When I joined in 1993, my A-100 class

of 44 included just 10 women. And yet

I didn’t perceive gender bias, neither in

training nor out at post. I felt that oppor-

tunity and promotion were equally avail-

able to me and to my male colleagues. In

fact, I found that being a woman in the

Foreign Service was particularly useful in

putting people at ease, encouraging them

to speak freely.

Today’s gender mix in A-100 classes is

much more balanced, as it is at the entry-

level for the other foreign affairs agencies.

State specialist entry classes do tend to

have more men than

women because Dip-

lomatic Security and

IT still attract more

men than women.

But gender biases

second-hand narrative can.


“Challenging Tradition,

” we offer

first-person accounts—based on oral

history interviews conducted by the

Association of Diplomatic Studies and

Training—of three female Foreign Ser-

vice officers breaking barriers from the

1950s through the 1980s: Elinor Consta-

ble, Phyllis Oakley and Mary Olmsted.

And in

FS Heritage,

Nicholas Willis

traces the evolution of State personnel

evaluations as reflected in the dossier of

his aunt, Frances Elizabeth Willis—the

third woman to join the Foreign Service

(in 1927), the first career woman to be

appointed ambassador (1953), and the

first to attain the rank of Career Minister

(1955) and then Career Ambassador


We can’t publish this focus without

a nod to the American Foreign Service

Association of today. AFSA represents—

and is the voice of—the Foreign Service.

Throughout its 92-year history, AFSA’s

membership, and leadership, has gener-

ally looked like the Foreign Service. So it

is worth noting that women have held the

post of AFSA president during five of the

last seven years. AFSA vice presidents for

the two largest constituencies—State and

USAID—are women: Angie Bryan and

Sharon Wayne.

Our current president, Ambassador

Barbara Stephenson, represents the best

of today’s FS leaders: she’s looking out for

those behind her on the FS career path

and recognizes the importance of striv-

ing for a Foreign Service that looks like