Making women's voices heard 📢

Why should women need to be better than men to deserve a seat at the table? Our UK-based interview contributor Dona Bouloud explores. 

Gender equality should not be conditional. Women are half the population, therefore we should be given half the seats at the table. Yet, I keep on hearing that “they won’t necessarily be better than men”. No they will not, and that is not what gender equality is about.  
How is this still a thing?”, “Why do we need to fight for this? Are we not in 2018?”. Every day, my news feed brings up a range of hot topics related to the place of women in our society that often leaves me with these reactions. The only good thing that I take out of these questions is that it shows gender equality is one of the most discussed issues of our time. Indeed, giving women more visibility - in leadership positions, panels, in the media, or in any area where they lack representation - has become a major concern in many parts of our society. But arguing that women will not necessarily make things better both for the world and for women shows that gender equality is not well understood.
We should not expect women to necessarily be better than men. Men have taken wrong decisions for centuries – impacting all human beings, earth and societies – yet no one has ever blamed their gender to justify their wrongdoings. Let us not start doing it for women.
Additionally, expecting women to only participate in feminist issues is dangerous: whether or not they are given consideration should not be dependent on how much feminist content they add. Although the military has nothing to do with feminism, the British Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, lawfully acknowledged that men and women should have equal chances to access employment and to add their voice, even within the highest bodies of leadership. All UK military roles, including within the elite SAS and frontline infantry, are now open to women. Objecting to this will only work to continue male domination.
Having said all that, gender equality is not about copying men's attributes – culture, values, characteristics – and pasting them onto women. They will not fit into this male frame, and they don’t have to. Gender equality is about hearing women as much as we hear men but also acknowledging their failures. On this last point though, we are certain no one will pass them up.

Dona Bouloud is currently based in London and is seeking to pursue a career in foreign policy with a media focus. She regularly writes op-eds on Medium about anything she judges worth discussing. Dona holds a Master’s degree in International Relations and a BA in Political Science. You can find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

What's the biggest risk you've taken?

I resigned from my digital marketing job earlier this month. Some people tell me I was brave to take that leap, which lights up an alert in my brain telling me I am being irresponsible. So I have been thinking about risk a lot: who gets to take risks and whether, for those who take them and are lauded for it, their choices even count as risk-taking. 
My plan in 2019 is to spend 75% of my time freelancing in marketing, branding and copywriting (oh hi btw, hire me*) and 25% scaling up and professionalising WIFP, getting proper funding and turning it into a fully-fledged organisation.
So I do have plans for after the end of my notice period (which, since I am lucky to live in Europe, is three months), but nothing signed. That’s where the risk element comes into play, and also where people’s perception differs depending on what you look like.  
A few years ago, non-binary single-mum Jack Monroe rose to prominence on the British cooking scene thanks to her blog, Cooking on a Bookstrap, and subsequent anti-poverty campaigning. Previously, she had worked for the fire service but had to quit because they refused to make necessary schedule adjustments for childcare. Monroe ended up living on benefits and has spoken in detail about the struggle of it. The reasons that lead to my resignation and hers are widely different. Having a child to take care of, she obviously took an even bigger risk than me. Yet many people, who might find my risk-taking as a cis, white woman “brave” heavily criticised her as being lazy and living off the state. Similar criticisms are levelled at many people of colour when they take a leap which, if they were white, would be considered as just another risk.
Being able to take a risk in a way that is valued by society is a privilege which doesn’t just come from having a good degree and a good support network. It helps to look like what centuries of literature, decades of movies and a few years of Silicon Valley founders have told us successful risk-takers look like. In short, it helps to be white, cis and even more to be male with a good degree.

How about you? What's the biggest risk you've taken and how was it received? How did you deal with the worry? Email us about your experience and we will share in our next newsletter.

Lucie Goulet
Women in Foreign Policy founder

Fighting for Diversity in Your Workplace

This newsletter, Ruchika Tulshyan discusses her experience as an immigrant in American workplaces and steps we can take to advance diversity and inclusion.
I'm an immigrant to America so the interest in diversity – and even the realization of how important it is, came to me very late. I had been in America for about 4 years (visiting frequently before), but for much of my early immigrant years, I was excited by the prospect of American equality. The ideas that everyone was welcome here and hard work was all it took to succeed were concepts I subscribed to eagerly.
As time passed, it became clear to me that American workplaces were alienating, oppressing and traumatizing a number of people; notably women, people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, people from the LGBTQ community…basically anyone who wasn't a straight, white, highly-educated man. I came to the realization after a number of painful experiences in technology, a field that is often lauded for being meritocratic. The last straw was when I was nearly fired for doing my job, because a white woman found me difficult to work with.
I quit my lucrative job to write a book on the business case for gender diversity and inclusion – and how companies could attract and advance women at work. Back then, many people kept saying it wasn't that workplaces weren't set up to be diverse and inclusive, just that women didn't lean in far enough. And when they did, amazing things would happen. Look at Oprah, they say. Or Michelle Obama. Or Indra Nooyi.
I found, and still find, that version of the world short-sighted.Telling individuals that they need to work hard to get ahead without looking at structural barriers to equity entirely misses the point. It's also an easy excuse to never make long-term change.
I get it, real change is really hard. It means redistributing power and privilege. It means shutting up and listening to people who are different to us. It means refusing to sit on "manels" or attend events where there is no racial diversity. It often means giving up a seat at the table so that someone with less privilege, but equally deserving, gets a chance to be there.
As America gears up for mid-term elections, it means voting and campaigning for, and supporting a diverse array of candidates. We need diversity at all levels of leadership, particularly political, as the Kavanaugh debacle has painfully highlighted.
So, I invite you to join me: What about if we each could take personal responsibility towards overhauling our patriarchal workplaces so that each and every person truly had an equal chance to get ahead? What would that look like?
Feel free to tell me what you think on Twitter: @rtulshyan.
Ruchika Tulshyan is a diversity & inclusion strategist, noted author and award-winning journalist. She is the author of "The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality In The Workplace," first published by Forbes Media. Through her company Candour, Ruchika advises a number of organizations on diversity & inclusion strategy and communications. Ruchika is also the 2019 inaugural Distinguished Professional-In Residence for Seattle University’s Communication Department.

Thank you for supporting us for 4 years!

This month, sometime between holding interviews for new team members and organising meetings with universities to see how we could work together, Women in Foreign Policy turned four.
When I launched WiFP, I was channelling two angers: how unrepresentative the foreign policy workforce and decision-makers still are; and the fact that no one in the industry was taking my experience seriously as a potential employee because of my background in luxury fashion marketing. I also couldn't find a space gathering the career advice I needed to figure out my next step. So I took stock of my skills and decided to create my own space, guessing that if it was missing for me, it was also missing for other people. This is a recurrent theme in feminist organisations that I’ve had the chance to work with.
As the cliché goes, WiFP has exceeded my expectations. Sure, a small part of me hoped that I would end up delivering a talk at the FCO, or meet the Queen along the way, but I never thought it would actually happen.
Obviously, running this organisation in addition to my day job isn’t all spotlight and royals. But for every evening and weekend I get home and find the task ahead daunting and stressful, there is an email waiting in my inbox that reminds me that our content does indeed provide you with the advice and support you need to succeed in your career.
It doesn’t get much better than one of you telling me that you left a networking event “more at ease and with new-found determination”. There was a lot of fist pumping involved the first time one of our website readers told me WiFP interview advice had helped her to get into the Foreign Office. It turns out that pride and happiness don't fade and this has carried me through many doubts and tough times.

As we are planning for the next four years and how to best inspire and support your career, we have developed a quick anonymous survey. Completing it takes 5 min and you will be in with a chance to win one of two £15 Amazon vouchers.
Wondering how else to wish us a happy birthday? Donate to us to cover our running costs, which are currently 70% self-funded by my full-time job. If you have experience in business development, email me so we can brainstorm. Make some noise about us on TwitterFacebook or InstagramTransfer this newsletter to your friends so they can sign up. 

Thank you for reading us, supporting us, feeding back and spreading the word over the past four years. Onwards!

Lucie Goulet
Women in Foreign Policy founder

Writing international relations

This week, as part of our authors series, Dr Christine Cheng shares her experience of writing a book on extralegal groups in post-conflict Liberia.

I have a confession to make: I never imagined that I would grow up to be a politics scholar. It was absolutely not what my parents expected of me. Doctor, lawyer, accountant, business owner— yes. Scientist or engineer— perhaps, with some convincing. But international relations expert— no way. Not a viable career path. Yet here I am, a Chinese-Canadian from Toronto, teaching War Studies in London.
It’s strange to think about how I ended up researching politics for a living. If you had told me twenty years ago that I would one day become so immersed in the Liberian civil war that I would end up writing 384 pages about it, I would’ve probably laughed and rolled my eyes. Yet writing this book has been one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done— but not for the reasons you might think.
The truth is that when I first began work on this project as a DPhil student in Oxford, many of my foreign policy views were the polar opposite of the views that I hold today. After reading and reading some more, conducting fieldwork, and then listening, teaching, presenting, and empathizing, my understanding of the world, of Africa, of the UN, and of human behavior all changed profoundly. Unexpectedly, doing this research and writing this book shook me to my core.  
To give you a sense of this, I grew up with the notion of “peace, order, and good government”. I had always just assumed that states were inherently benevolent because for me, they always had been. When I started my project, my mental model of what all states should aspire to resembled the countries that I was most familiar with: rich, Western democracies. It made intuitive sense to me that after war, the goal should be for more and deeper statebuilding.

But living in a post-conflict country turned all of my thinking upside-down and inside-out. The harsh reality of life after civil war forced me to rethink everything from corruption to infrastructure problems to election violence to having outsiders tell you how to run your country. Under these conditions, a stronger and deeper state was not always a good thing. After a while, it became obvious to me that imposing Western norms and expectations on a society with very different basic social building blocks was not going to turn out the way we expected it to. And yet we persisted without stopping to question.

I lost faith that we, in the international community, genuinely intended to do good for others. This nagging doubt made writing the book a painful process because I had to reckon with my own values and beliefs. Did everything I thought I believed in still hold?  

This is all to say that writing a book isn’t just about understanding the subject matter and then figuring out how to convey that understanding to the reader. On the face of it, I wrote a book about ex-combatant groups that formed out of Liberia’s civil war. But the book was also a giant mea culpa. Writing a book— especially an international relations book—can also force you to actively take stock of your beliefs, values, and your identity. If you leave yourself open to the possibility, you might end up in a very different place than where you started.

Dr Christine Cheng is the author of Extralegal Groups in Post-Conflict Liberia—How Trade Makes the State (Oxford University Press, 2018). She is Lecturer in War Studies at King’s College London and a member of WiFP’s Advisory Board. She tweets @cheng_christine
Read WiFP’s 
interview with Christine

Working With Refugees

This month's theme at WiFP is women who work in the field of refugees. For many the refugee crisis is far removed from their own personal lives. It's only something most people hear about in snippets on the news or social media. 

I myself did not comprehend the complexity and the magnitude of the crisis until I started working with refugees in 2015. I started off as a Refugee Status Determination Officer, meaning I interviewed refugees and decided on asylum applications. I started off doing so in the luxury of my home office, and was later deployed to one of the hotspots on the Greek islands, where my office was right in the middle of a refugee camp. There were mornings where I literally had to step over sleeping families to get inside, a reality check that changes everything.

I sometimes have a hard time dealing with the situation of inequality refugees often find themselves in. It's the state versus the asylum seeker; the older inhabitants of a state versus the new inhabitants; the aid worker versus those in need of aid. Anyone working with refugees at some point searches for their place within this crisis. I am still searching for it.  

Do read our past interviews with Fahrinisa Fatima Oswald and Bathoul Ahmed, along with the new interviews below to learn more about other wonderful women working in the field of refugees. 

We would still like to interview women who write policy for their respective governments on matters regarding refugees. Even more so we would love to interview female refugees who ended up working in foreign policy. If this is you, please contact WiFP

And don’t forget to tune in to our brand new podcast hosted by Annika Erickson-Pearson and Ashley Pratt. We have two episodes coming out this month! More information below.

Loes is a contributor at Women in Foreign Policy.

"Leave the saving of the world to men?... We don't think so!"

When I was six, my parents took me to see The Incredibles and I thought it was the coolest film ever. It was also one of the first DVDs I ever owned and I watched it pretty much on a loop for a while. So a few weeks ago, age 20 this time, I went to see the sequel and I absolutely loved it!

While watching it, though, I started thinking about how well it explores issues faced by working mums -- especially considering that it's a kids’ movie. I also realised that, in hindsight, Elastigirl was probably one of my first feminist role models (something that might have been lost on six-year-old me).

Elastigirl is a fully fleshed out character (incidentally not only metaphorically but also physically, as many people have pointed out online). She’s a superhero as well as a mum which, as the brilliant Edna Mode observes, is a “heroic act” in itself. In The Incredibles 2, she’s out saving the world while her husband, Mr. Incredible, is stuck at home with the kids. But despite the amount of support she has at home, she still has to make sacrifices, something a lot of working mums are familiar with.

In “Lean In”, Sheryl Sandberg says that “no matter what any of us has -- and how grateful we are for what we have -- no one has it all.” Similarly, in this brilliant letter to her daughters, CEO Sarah Wells tells them “you cannot give everything 100% of you 100% of the time”. And a few days ago, Serena Williams tweeted that she’d cried after missing her daughter’s first steps, something that resonated with a lot of working mums.

I’m 20 and too young to have either a job or kids (as far as I’m concerned, at least). But I hope that, should I need it one day, I’ll have as much support as Elastigirl does in The Incredibles 2. If all women had the support they needed, then they’d be able to do their own super things, which is really important. After all, as Elastigirl says, “leave the saving of the world to men? I don’t think so!”

Ashvini Rae is a 3rd year Politics and International Relations student at the University of York with a keen interest in foreign policy and International Development. She hopes to pursue a career in international human rights (specifically women’s rights) advocacy. One of her aims is to one day do something cool enough that means she’ll get interviewed for Women in Foreign Policy! Read Ashvini’s interview with Larissa Kennedy.

⚡ Careers advice from six trailblazers ⚡

From Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to Madeleine Albright, Indira Gandhi to Eva Perón, Anne Warburton to Malala Yousafzai, there are women all around the globe who are making groundbreaking, and glass shattering, moves. Heads of states, ambassadors, political leaders, and advocates for women’s rights -- more and more women finally have the means to achieve what they were held back from doing not so long ago. 

As part of our Women Trailblazers series, this month at WiFP we want to draw attention to modern-day women on the front lines striving to break barriers. The ones negotiating peace deals, reporting on world crises, drafting human rights legislation, or leading their governments, often unseen or unappreciated. And we see you as, or becoming, these same women. 

Through six featured interviews, we want you to ask yourself the big questions about how to get to where you want to be and seek the answers in the experiences of similar amazing, trailblazing women. Questions like: 

How can I get started and how can I keep going? “Just dream big... I took on a bigger dream, but then I achieved it and then I took on a bigger dream and then I achieved it. It was as if I realized there was something bigger waiting for me. Keep pushing your dreams, because the bigger your dreams, the bigger your chances of achieving them.” (Diana Nassar, TechWomen Fellow Jordan) 

How can I prepare for the challenges I’ll face? “Be resilient. People will slam the door on you when you want an interview, or you may face a layoff. And finally, just get out there!”(Lisa Yurika Thomas, Senior Producer at AJ+) 

How do I overcome prejudice or doubt, in myself or others? “Fear comes from ignorance. When you read a book or talk to might not agree on things, but you will realize you have the same needs and wants.” (Holly Dagres, Founder of The Iranist) 

When I feel lost, what do I believe? “Don't let anyone discourage you or tell you that you can't do what you want to do. It might take a while to get where you want to be. We're not all lucky enough to have the straight route from school to ending up in the line of business that we want to end up in. I think if you really want it, it's actually possible.” (Nani Jansen Reventlow, Human Rights Lawyer) 

What if I what I envision doesn’t yet exist? “If foreign policy is going to be relevant and progressive and significant, then it needs new voices and fresh ideas. Easier said than done, of course. But what ultimately drives this project…[is] I'm simply tired of women being subjugated and not taken seriously in politics.” (Marissa Conway, founder of the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy) 

How do I know I’m doing the right thing? “Communication is key...I’ve been able to do some of my best work by being able to communicate with other cultures...A lot of communication is just keeping quiet and not saying anything when engaging the people that we serve. When they say “This is what we need,” we have to listen.” (Morgan McClain-McKinney, USAID Foreign Service Officer) 

Want to hear more from those inspiring women? Tune in to our brand new podcast, launching  31 July on SoundCloudiTunes, and Stitcher. Every month, hosts Annika Erickson-Pearson and Ashley Pratt will dive into a career challenge, drawing from the wisdom women working in foreign policy have shared with us over the past four years to help you.

Beyoncé > Napoleon

Two weeks ago, I visited Kenwood House, a stunning neoclassical villa on the outskirts of London. Dido Elizabeth Belle (from the movie Belle), daughter of a slave likely called Maria and of Sir John Lindsay, nephew of the house owner William Murray, grew up there. She is also one of the rare, non-servant, non-slave women of colour featured in 18th century art - it’s her in the portrait above, posing alongside her cousin.

So by the time the Carters’ Everything is Love dropped on Saturday, I had been thinking a lot about the representation of black people in art, one of the themes of their Apes**t video. It was shot at the Louvres, where I spent many hours as a child, never realising the fact it was a privilege that most people hanging on the walls looked like me, or questioning how there was such a great number of Egyptian artefacts on display.   

Napoleon is part of the “how.” In power in France for about 15 years, Napoléon truly was the worst, though if you attended school in France, you wouldn’t know it. Napoléon is tightly linked to the perpetuation of slavery in France, along with his first wife Joséphine whom he crowns in David’s painting above.

Joséphine de Beauharnais was born in Martinique to a wealthy, white, Créole family that exploited a sugar cane plantation with 150 to 300 slaves. Because of the time and place of her birth, Joséphine’s image in history has been built around racist tropes of her time, tropes that are still visible in representations of black people today. There is the “magical n***a” stereotype, when an aging female slave predicted she would become queen; "the benevolent slaveholder," as growing up she played with slave children on the plantation; and finally, the trope of “sinful” interracial love, as her former lover, Revolutionary General Paul Barras, wrote in his memoirs that she’d had multiple affairs with black men and bore a mixed-race child.

However beyond a history that relies on racist stereotypes, what is most important is the rumour, rooted in Napoléon’s Memoirs, that Joséphine assisted him in re-establishing slavery across French territories. Its 1794 abolition had been ignored by most French colonies, and in 1802, Bonaparte decided to go back to it. Slavery wouldn’t be fully abolished across French territories, particularly the French Caribbean, until 1848.

Beyoncé knows her black history as well as she knows her art. Her mother Tina’s parents “were both French-speaking Creoles of predominantly French, African, Spanish and Native American descent”. There were millions of artworks to choose from at the Louvres, so every piece of art featured in Apes**t, including Napoléon’s Coronation, is significant.

Beyoncé and her formation aren’t just dancing in front of a self-proclaimed emperor crowning his wife, with the singer perfectly positioning herself in front of Joséphine. They are dancing in front of a big part of France’s heritage of slavery, which Beyoncé is somewhat linked to through her maternal ancestries.  

The “symbolic retrieval of stolen power” goes further than reclaiming art and museum spaces - the Carters are actively defying a couple who created, profited from, and perpetuated systems of oppression to make sure people who looked like them and their dancers wouldn’t get equal access to spaces like the Louvres. The fact that they are doing it in France, where we still aren’t facing the question of race, in front a man like Napoléon, who we are still largely obsessed with and proud of, is even more meaningful. Your move, France.

Lucie Goulet is the founder and CEO of Women in Foreign Policy.

Traveling towards a global identity

The first time I traveled abroad, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. 

My family traveled a lot when I was baby, but by the time I was two they had settled in the U.S. and didn’t leave the country again. Listening to their stories, I grew up dreaming about exploring the world so when I was 18, I didn’t miss my chance. There was a volunteer opportunity in rural Cameroon during my college’s summer break and there was no way I wasn’t going. 

I’ll spare you the details but let’s just say I vastly underestimated the difficulty of living in a different country. I finished the six-week project with my two teammates and we all returned safely home, but I was never the same again. 

Though, unlike what the average media outlet portrays, this had nothing to do with the “dangers” of “third-world” or “developing” countries. Instead, I had changed in a way that helped me see the world as though I were part of it as whole, rather than just part of my particular piece. It was a global perspective I was working on, rather than an international one. 

And this effect only grew with each new country I visited. From study abroad to interning, teaching a language to learning one, I always grew a bit more, was challenged a bit more, and changed a bit more. 

This is hardly a glamorous process, despite what the feed of your nearest Instagram influencer might suggest. While there is nothing wrong with a vacation, that is very different from going to a country with the intent to learn something new, or even, with the intent to be proven wrong. Traveling with this purpose changes the places you select, from tropical beaches to poorer economies, from high-rise luxury to post-conflict zones, and also the actions you take while there. 

That’s because traveling with the intent to learn is about correcting incorrect assumptions. It’s about exposing your flaws and becoming vulnerable. It’s about seeing the injustices of the world and how you yourself are representative of them; how simply your presence can be a reminder of the imbalance of power and of a painful colonial past that will never be distant nor addressed enough. It’s about questioning your identity and beliefs because the life that you know is inconceivable to those where you currently are. It’s about being, at times, very alone. 

So why do it? Because no matter how hard it gets, there are few things more rewarding than knowing that you are growing, clearing your vision, and expanding your perspective. More importantly, you are developing a global identity that ties you to the world and to its people, and with that will come the understanding and empathy to fix the imbalances on our planet. And the more people who do it, the faster that will be. 

What do you think? Do you like to travel to learn or would you like to start? Any pro-tips you can offer? Reply to this email or let us know on social media (#WiFP). Emily Gray Salada is a newsletter coordinator at #WiFP and starting her MS in Foreign Service at Georgetown University this fall. 

Retracing my family's roots in Uganda

This newsletter, Women in Foreign Policy explores national identity while living in an increasingly globalized and at times, displaced, world. Tina Tailor, our UK TwitterCoordinator, shares her personal journey with us and reinforces why WiFP continues to advocate for more diverse voices in foreign policy.
I describe myself as a British-born Indian, although my mother was born in Jinja, Uganda, and my father in Nakuru, Kenya.  My great-grandfather and his family migrated from Gujarat to Uganda during a famine in the early 1900s in search of a better standard of living.

I have always been interested in where my family came from, their journey to the UK, and why they came here.

In 1972, my mother had to leave Uganda within 90 days because the president, Idi Amin, expelled all Asians from the country. My family had to leave their homes, businesses, and schools. Uganda was part of the British colony so they had British passports and came to England. They were one of the last families to leave because they hoped Amin would change his mind.

When my family first arrived in the UK, they lived in military barracks in Uckfield near Brighton and then spent a year living in another barracks in Lincolnshire. They were given £55 per family and wore the clothes they left in as they weren’t allowed to take their possessions with them.

Then they were given a council house in Brighton. While in Brighton, they heard through family and friends that some Ugandan-Asians had settled in Leicester and so went to visit. They decided to settle in Leicester as it had an established South Asian community.

Growing up, my mother talked about Uganda a lot -- I also heard so much about her struggles and heartache about leaving. I became curious about the country and wanted to visit to see for myself why she loved the country she had to leave behind.

In March 2018, eight members of my family, including my parents, went to Uganda. We visited important places my family wanted to see in Kampala and Jinja, such as my mum’s school and my family’s home and business. The stories my mother told me as a child came alive in Uganda. Some of the buildings remained the same such as the schools and hospital but their home was now a restaurant and their business was converted into small shops.

Going back to Uganda was both exciting and emotional at the same time for all of us that went. We made the journey for all our family members that never got to go back. My grandfather and his brothers all died shortly after arriving in the UK. Uganda was their home and they found the experience of leaving it traumatic.

Uganda is part of my identity, something that I am proud of. After visiting the country, I feel connected to it and I wish to return there with my own family, show my children the important places, and tell the same stories my mother told me.

Returning to work after motherhood

Ahead of US Mother’s Day on Sunday, we are exploring the challenges women meet when they go back to work after maternity leave through the experience of Tina Tailor, our UK-based Twitter coordinator.
“Returning to work after having children was a challenging time for me. I hadn’t been to an interview in over eight years. I felt vulnerable because I had lost my confidence in myself as an individual and I was starting all over again. I forgot how to just be me. I thought that it wasn’t possible to have a career and be a mother at the same time -- I couldn’t do both. For a very long time this belief stopped me from going back into the workplace. I felt like I was better off being at home because my children’s needs were greater than mine.
After graduating from university, I had accepted a role with a local council as I was in the process of getting married and planned to start a family soon after. During my maternity leave, I became aware that I couldn’t continue in this role, which involved evening meetings, and look after small children. Consequently, my contract was not extended. Three years later, I had another child and before I knew it, I was a stay-at-home mum for five years.
I went back to work in 2016, when my youngest was two. Working part time meant that most of my wages went on child care. Working was costing me more than staying at home! It was only in April this year that I started to keep part of the wages for myself. I’m not the only one: childcare costs in the UK are so high that a lot of mothers are better off financially if they stay at home.  However, I felt that I had to start somewhere because there was a gap in my career.
Another reason why I wanted to work is the benefit of the environment. Doing my job simply makes me happy. I am supported by management, my colleagues are great to work with, and I am improving my skills set. My supervisor is studying part time and was required to coach a colleague as part of her course. I volunteered as she is the same age as me and has two children, like me. The sessions have been useful as I am learning strategies for my career development and it’s great to be part of a working relationship where two women support one another.
Focusing on my career and being a mother is a juggling act. I face different challenges every day, both at home and in the workplace. Many people talk about finding a balance but I’m not sure if there is a balanced life. I think we’ve got to keep doing what makes us happy and having a career makes me happy.” 

Career planning and changing paths

Do you ever feel like we get mixed messages about planning careers? Much of the advice I’ve been given about careers and postgraduate study is contradictory. This experience is what prompted me to apply to work with WiPF-- I want more young women to know about our career interviews and workshops.
I’ve read countless blogs about how it’s ok not to rush into a career, and how we’re likely to change careers at least once. Yet, at university, it was made clear to me that choosing a path early on gives you an advantage -- at careers events, employers and successful alumni recommended choosing a ‘niche’ and getting relevant experience as early as possible.
Searching for jobs online, I’ve noticed that person specifications for entry-level jobs can be prescriptive. In Europe, you’re usually required to have an MA, previous experience in a similar organization, deep knowledge of a region or a track record of using a specific skill. In the U.S., the foreign-policy community has become self-selecting, as having a prestigious Masters or Ph.D. is now a necessity.

Where does this leave those who've changed their minds or those who took time out to explore options? They may be perceived as less passionate about pursuing their chosen career. I’m inspired by those who, over many years, have shown dedication to their chosen field. Still, we should be able to recognize their achievements without devaluing others’ non-linear routes to employment. Expecting people to gain their skills in a specific area will make foreign policy less diverse.
I have friends did a second postgraduate degree after realizing that they had been following the wrong path, but making this change was costly. In the UK, we’ve seen a sharp drop in mature and part-time students. Many women, particularly those with children, are not in a position to quit a full-time job to go back to university or take up a low-paid traineeship.
If you’ve delayed your career or changed path, you can end up feeling like you’re not where you should be. Last year, I volunteered at an NGO (which is not an option that is open to everyone, of course). Most of the other volunteers were older than me but they were happy with their decision to take time to build up experience. I found their attitude refreshing. However, we knew there was pressure to reach career milestones by a certain point, like the successful women working there had done.
From reading our interviews, it may seem that many of the women decided what they wanted to do early on, even before university -- but what we read is only part of their story. Everyone takes detours and gets some rejections. Even with a plan, you can’t predict where you’ll end up.
We’re privileged to be in a position where our careers are a primary concern, but this doesn’t mean that we shouldn't talk about career anxiety. The process of deciding what to do in life is stressful, and more so for those without access to good advice. I hope that having honest conversations like these will help women, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, make choices which will help them get where they want to be.
If you’ve changed careers and now work in foreign policy, or if you’re having difficulty making a career move, emails us back. We'd love to hear your story!

Lucy Lavery is a newsletter coordinator at Women in Foreign Policy.

Bend or burn the system?

Have you read Ellen Pao’s book yet? In Reset, she recounts her time in Silicon Valley, including at the venture capital firm Kleiner, which famously ended in a lawsuit for workplace discrimination and retaliation against women and other underrepresented groups.
I am currently half-way through the book -- Pao has just filed her suit and is starting to see the consequences at work and in the media. Kleiner hired a management crisis firm to smear her. Her memoir is an enlightening, depressing, and angering read. Among other things, it observes how Silicon Valley, which despite priding itself on disruption and innovation, preserves the status quo.
The system in Silicon Valley that Pao depicts is purposely built to protect, promote, and laud white, male, Ivy-League dropouts and keep out anyone who doesn’t look like them, including women.
As a VC, Pao invested in promising startups, joining their boards, hiring and advising their top management. She quickly realised that white, male, Ivy-League dropouts were most likely to get funding. Eventually, this became a self-fulfilling prophecy: when you only fund white, male Ivy League dropouts, the only people who succeed and make money are white, male, Ivy-League dropouts. (Not that there aren’t plenty of failures, but as Pao points out, no one is keeping track of that number).
Reading Pao’s account -- from being harassed by a colleague to how Kleiner forbade employees from discussing instances of harassment -- I had a reaction to her situation that really annoyed me. I wondered why she hadn’t left earlier. Clearly, the company was treating her poorly, undervaluing her work, and she had doubts about its culture from the get-go. I was annoyed at myself because this shouldn’t be about her decision to leave or stay. She should never have been put in a position where she felt she had to leave just because she was an Asian woman.
One of the questions at the heart of Reset is whether we can achieve equality with white, cis, able-bodied, straight men, within the current system. Can we keep it and work on bending and bettering it, or do we need to start over and create a new one entirely?
Pao initially tried to bend it. She was the good little soldier who accepted grunt work well below her abilities and didn’t make waves even when she was put in uncomfortable situations. Additionally, Pao went through the corporate channels to raise issues hoping the firm would help and questioned her own responsibility in situations, like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In told her to.
But it didn’t work, and it was only after months of trying the corporate-approved way that Pao filed her suit. There, she came face to face with another status-quo perpetuating system -- the justice system. The jury rejected all her claims and she lost.The New York Times named her degrading reviews as the clinching factor. Pao argues that performance reviews were stacked against her.
Pao may have lost the legal and corporate battle, but her suit was hailed as a landmark moment for gender equality in Silicon Valley. She played an important role in the fight to make sure pale, male, Ivy-League dropouts aren’t the only participants in innovation going forward. Pao setup Project Include, to “use data and advocacy to accelerate diversity and inclusion in the tech industry,” and she is now working with the Kapor centre “at the intersection of technology and racial and social justice.” Her work is all the more important when we consider that the key AI technologies are being developed from a white, male, Ivy-League dropout perspective.
Three years on, improvements are still slow to come but in the end, since the standard Silicon Valley firms were doing little for equality, Pao founded her own to further it. She stopped bending to and trying to better the old system and instead created the possibility of a new one.

Show up

The first thing I saw waking up yesterday was Elizabeth Warren's newsletter about "Victory in Alabama". This was an unexpected piece of good news, in morning news that rarely brings much. That piece of good news happened because, despite complicated ID laws, voters (especially black voters) showed up. 

Every election over the past two years has reminded us that "decisions are made by those who show up" (I won't include any puzzled remark about the electoral college here). During the last British General Elections, the Conservative Candidate in my constituency won over the Liberal Democrat Candidate by 45 votes. FORTY-FIVE VOTES. That could have been 46 people saying, "I can't be bothered today". Personally, I couldn't show up in this one because I am not British, and I was too busy showing up in the French elections. 

There are many ways to analyse Emmanuel Macron's victory, from the candidates that other the other parties picked to his unique reading of the mood in France. From my experience working on the ground, the key was that he inspired people who had never before shown up for politics. If you took the Eurostar between April and June, you might have seen En Marche people leafleting at Saint Pancras. For most of them, it was their first political engagement. 

Showing up isn't just a way for you to influence the future of your country, it will impact your future very directly. If you're not there, you can't get the job. I can link every unlikely job I've had to my decision to just show up. While studying at the LSE, I worked at the British Museum as a curatorial assistant. A few months after I started, I asked the curator why I got the job. Apparently, he got a lot of emails from people interested in working at the BM, but few turned up to his office hours the way that I did when he suggested it. 

I discussed showing up with Dr Christine Cheng, a Lecturer at King's College, in our latest interview. In 2016, Christine joined the Liberal Democrat Party. Then she decided to do a bit more, and ended up on the committee that worked on the Liberal Democrat's Foreign Policy in the last general elections. 

⏰ Early mornings aren’t a magic formula

Every candidate running for French president has to laud  "La France qui se lève tot", ("France that gets up early"). Your alarm clock has become shorthand for how virtuous and hardworking you are. I'm sure everyone pulling night shifts appreciates. 

Management literature has also adopted early mornings as the magic formula for success, in the process ignoring that electing to wake up early to work on a side project, meditate or organise your day is a luxury only people who have agency over their time can afford. 

As annoyed as I am that people have decided that mornings are the answer to everything, I am actually a born early riser. As I type this, it's 5:30am and I've been up for over 30 minutes. Yet I wouldn't advocate it for everyone. I am an early riser because of my Circadian rhythm and because I go to bed early. I have accepted that this means missing out on many evening events, including events organised by night owls that could have been useful to my career. 

Most literature focusing on waking up early argues that you are more productive in the morning. It's true. I used to be at my desk at Burberry by 7:30am. It was my best 90 minutes of the day, because no one else was around or answering emails. If all my colleagues had turned up before 8am, it wouldn't have been as productive.

Rather than pressuring people into getting up early, management and leadership thinkers should consider how owls and larks can cohabit in ways that are the most productive and happiest for everyone. From my perspective, that means corporations don't equate 'working late' with 'working hard', no evening team building events and fewer late meetings.