THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
@ State: Breaking
BY SUSAN STEVENSONE xecutive Women @ State
was launched in 2007 by a smallgroup 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
its second female
Secretary of State and
several women in
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
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
• Overcoming barriers for advancement and retention of
• Expanding engagement with senior non-career leaders and
• 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.