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Seven female ambassadors candidly discuss the challenges

and successes of building both careers and families.

Making It Work:

Conversations with

Female Ambassadors

Leslie Bassett retired recently from the Senior Foreign

Service. She is a former U.S. ambassador to Para-

guay. Amb. Bassett has also served as deputy chief of

mission at the U.S. embassies in Manila, Mexico City

and Gaborone. She compiled these interviews in her informal

role as coordinator of Women Ambassadors Serving America at

the State Department.


uring a recent virtual ambassadors’

roundtable, initiated by the group

Women Ambassadors Serving Amer-

ica, seven female envoys agreed to

share their experiences building both

their careers and their families, and

the specific successes and challenges

they encountered along the way. We

recognize that male colleagues face

similar challenges and hope the excerpts from these interviews

are insightful for all.

Amb. Leslie Bassett:

Tell us about a time when your profes-

sional and family responsibilities came into conflict.

Amb. Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley:

Our toughest time

was during my three years as principal officer in Saudi Arabia.

Our daughter was 6 and our son was 9. In addition to the many

cultural challenges, my family was evacuated twice before being

prohibited from returning to post. The three-year tour kept us

apart for 18 months. We had to decide whether I should curtail,

or separate the family. I was warned by a colleague that such

separations had ended his marriage and I should consider my

decision carefully. Fear of stalling my career and confidence in

our relationship led my husband and me to decide we could

manage the separation—and to underestimate the impact on

our children.

We had early affirmation of the decision as I learned shortly

after that I was being nominated as an ambassador based on my

performance in Saudi. Nonetheless, our son was angry for years

about the separation, and we’ve all had some therapy to deal

with the fallout.

Amb. Nina Hachigian:

While I am generally decisive, deci-

sions that weigh family against career priorities take longer and

feel more wrenching. As an ambassador, I do have some control

over my schedule, and that helps. It was the worst when I was

at the National Security Council, working crazy long hours,

and couldn’t even talk on the phone with my husband without

constant interruption. He had moved to D.C. for me, and our

marriage was tested by that experience.

Amb. Deborah Malac:

Parenting from thousands of miles

away is a particular challenge. Although I felt competent at my

job most of the time, I often did not feel so confident when it

came to parenting and the things I thought I “should” be doing.

Particularly when I was working in Washington when my chil-