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JUNE 2015



Executive Women

@ State: Breaking



E xecutive Women @ State

was launched in 2007 by a small

group of former U.S. Info

rmation Agency officers trying

to replicate the agency’s Women’s Action Organization at the

much larger and more complex State Department. Seeing the

value of a strong women’s professional network and support for

women’s advancement, they wanted to pursue those goals at


At the time, the

department had

its second female

Secretary of State and

several women in

leadership positions.

A 2009 presentation by

the Bureau of Public

Affairs Office of the Historian reminded us that:

• The first woman employee was a typist hired in the 1890s.

• The first female FSO was hired in the 1920s but had to

resign when she married.

• It wasn’t until the 1970s that the “marriage rule” was abol-

ished, allowing married women to serve as FSOs.

• We now have more female ambassadors, assistant secre-

taries, deputy assistant secretaries, directors and Senior

Foreign and Executive Service members than ever before.

Women comprise 40 percent of the State Department work-

force, up from 27 percent in 1994.

Many would say the gender wars have been won. But the proportion of women in the Foreign Service has not changed for the past decade, hovering at 30 percent, and the shift to more administrative jobs in the Civil Service has moved many women out of clerical positions—but not necessarily into senior ranks. Partnering with the Office of Civil Rights, EW@S

has endeavored to host programs, seminars, focus groups and

discussions with senior leaders to explore the barriers that still

exist for women.

Currently EW@S’s challenge is to demonstrate to State

Department leaders—many of whom are female political

appointees—that there is a problem. HR has agreed to start in-

depth exit interviews to learn why women are leaving State at all

levels, and we are working with the Foreign Service Institute to

tackle unconscious bias that could be holding women back.

We also want to encourage more women to apply for leader-

ship positions to serve as role models, catalysts and mentors for

the next generation. This year’s Women’s History Month event

featured American University Associate Professor of Govern-

ment Jennifer Lawless, whose exhaustive research showed that

women didn’t run for political office (where they were just as

likely to win as men) for the simple reason that no one encour-

aged them to do so. When they received encouragement, they

were more likely than men to dismiss it; and they felt that they

had to be twice as good as men to be taken seriously. That could

be why more women are not putting themselves forward for

deputy chief of mission or chief of mission roles here at the

State Department.

EW@S’s mission is

to promote, support

and mentor women

for senior leadership

positions in the depart-

ment. Specifically, we

are committed to:

• Advocating an increase in the number of career women in

senior positions

• Overcoming barriers for advancement and retention of


• Expanding engagement with senior non-career leaders and

potential community

• Mentoring the next generation of women leaders.

EW@S now has 1,500 members and a sister organization at

USAID. We’ve become active with women in the intelligence

services, who have conducted research to see what is prevent-

ing women from reaching senior levels there. We have affiliate

groups at the mid-level (Associates) and entry-level/junior

levels (EJs) to mentor the next generation. From our humble

beginnings as a handful of officers in 2007, it is clear that EW@S

is fulfilling a need in the community.

Susan Stevenson is the EW@S second vice president.

She is a public diplomacy-coned Senior Foreign Service

officer working for the under secretary for public

diplomacy and public affairs. Juggling a private-sector

spouse and three children, she has spent most of her

career in East Asia.

Currently EW@S’s challenge is to

demonstrate to State Department leaders—

many of whom are female political

appointees—that there is a problem.