THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Seven female ambassadors candidly discuss the challenges
and successes of building both careers and families.
Making It Work:
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
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-
I NTERV I EWS CONDUCTED BY L ES L I E BASSETT