What Kind of Day Has It Been?

I stayed up all night in London to watch the US Presidential Election live because I wanted to see the first female US President with my own eyes. I’m a political junkie at heart, so I’ve always loved watching elections in real time. At the beginning of the night, I imagined that CNN or ABC would call the election for Hillary Rodham Clinton around 4 a.m. GMT, and I would skip around my room, FaceTime my Nasty Women friends in the United States, and happily reminisce about how we all “stormed” the White House the night of Obama’s victory in 2012. None of this happened. Instead, my smile grew fainter and fainter, as swing state after swing state declared her opponent victorious. By 5 a.m., I was nauseous and in denial.

Let’s set one thing straight – “President Hillary Clinton” would not have been the definite end of racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry in American Society. Of course there would still be more battles to fight. Yet, whether you agree with her policies or not, you can understand that the election of a female President in the United States would have had an #impact on the presence of women and people of colour in foreign policy and politics in general. A Clinton presidency could have meant more seats at the table for all of us who have long been designated as “the other,” “the remainder,” or “the affirmative action choice.” 

“You cannot be what you cannot see

I first heard this phrase from Heben Nigatu on an episode of BuzzFeed’s Another Round podcast, and I think about it every single day. At times, it is difficult to feel like you can achieve success in your field if no one that looks like you has done it before. A visible, strong-willed, female US President in a pantsuit could have been an inspiration for younger women, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ Americans, and she could have set an example for other parts of the world to follow. 

Instead, the 2016 Presidential Election has shown us that you can be intelligent, study hard, attend good schools, work passionately to help the less fortunate, and run an inclusive and diverse campaign, but you would still lose to that guy in your class who didn’t even study for the test. That is the hardest part to swallow. I feel strongly for every single person who worked tirelessly on Hillary’s campaign, constantly going high while the other campaign sank even lower. I feel for Huma, and Zerlina, and Jennifer, and Sarah, who have participated in the struggle for a stronger, greater America. Despite the results of the election, I know these figures have inspired young women across the country to stand up for what is right, and to pursue similar careers. In her concession speech today, Clinton added, "To all the little girls watching...never doubt that you are valuable and powerful & deserving of every chance & opportunity in the world."

What do we do next? We have to wipe away our tears and get back to work trying to create a more inclusive space for people of all backgrounds to be involved in politics and public policy. We must congratulate the likes of Kamala HarrisIlhan OmarKate Brown, and Catherine Cortez Masto. Each of them became the first of their kind on election night, and they now represent a new class of inspiring women in politics. May we always remember the hard work that these all of these campaigns put into the 2016 elections and fuel this anger into #interrupting the status quo.

Watch Secretary Clinton's concession speech here

Aisha Babalakin graduated from the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in 2015, majoring in International Politics and Arab Studies. She is currently pursuing an LLB at SOAS in London, U.K.

Founder's note: Stop calling women "guys"

The July Women in Foreign Policy newsletter was the most popular to date. Not just because it deployed to 1,200+ people, but because it started a real dialogue between me and the receivers. If you'd like to receive the WIFP monthly newsletter, sign up here

Growing up in France, it was impossible not to know that language is sexist. One of the first grammar rules I learnt was that "le masculin l'emporte": no matter how many feminine nouns there is in an enumeration, as long as there is at least one masculine one, adjectives, past participles and the lot take the masculine. 

English grammar doesn't have this kind of rule, yet it counts many words that are only used to describe women. "Nagging" has been bothering me lately. Only women seem to be nagging. I just Googled "nagging man" - the third suggestion was "man kills nagging wife". The fourth, "man shoots nagging wife". This is sexist language used to justify violence against women. The words we choose are an integral part of ingrained sexism, as I was reminded reading Marina Keegan's The Opposite of Loneliness. In one of her short stories, she writes about how the female character's boyfriend had started to resent "her nagging habit", in order to show how the couple is falling out of love. 

In her March interview with men's magazine EsquireEmma Watson talked about how, even though she is engaged with feminism every day, she keeps tripping up on language. "I say "guys" to a room of girls all the time", she explained, which is when I realised that I do that too.

Working in luxury fashion, the majority of my co-workers are women. There are three men in my team of 17. For too long, that didn't stop me from opening emails with "Hi guys", or saying it in meetings. I'm paying attention to it now, though I still fall short of stopping myself every time. I've also started calling people out on it. I always get told that "guys" is a generic term, not a gendered one. Except it is doing much the same as French grammar: assuming that it is acceptable to choose a noun describing men to define women. Calling a group of women "guys" is acceptable, but many groups of men would take umbrage to being called "girls". 

Earlier this year, criminal defense lawyer Nancy Hollander recounted a great anecdote about how she convinced a judge, early in her career, to stop referring to all counsel as "gentlemen". It inspires me every time I encounter sexist language at work. Read it here and send me your stories of how you deal with sexist language. 

And here are some of the best replies: 

  • Ashley of The Broad Experience  pointed out that considering 'guys' to be neutral but 'gals' or 'girls' not to be is similar to considering the colour blue to be neutral but pink to be girly.

  • Emily of the Women's Foundation says "words are everything" and reminded me of how, when actresses complain about being called 'actresses', we make them all 'actors' which is similar to calling all people 'guys'.
  • Joyce at Facilitating Peace had an excellent point about how in French, women and girls are defined by their relationship to men. There are only two words covering woman, wife, girl and daughter (femme and fille) whereas there are four to refer to men at similar stages of their lives (homme, mari, garcon and fils). 



Founder's Note: “Thus human courts acquit the strong”

A divisive sickness plagued the kingdom. Generations, classes, races, turning on each other. They died not all, but all were sick. At last the Afghan Hound was called upon to unite the provinces and quieten discontent.

“My dear friends”, she said, “I think these trials show that heaven intend to tell us that we will need to build a country that works, not for a privileged few, but for every one of us. So let us find the one of us whose crimes are worst to draw the lightning on his head alone and, hopefully, at one stroke atone for all. For history teaches that in times of crisis, one often makes these sacrifices. So search your consciences, look deep inside; reveal the ugly thing you always thought to hide. Hold nothing back, wipe clean the slate: a public confession is good for the state!”

“I have insulted great nations and foreign statesmen, volunteered the Orangutan. Had they harmed me at all? No, not in any way. So that was wrong, of course. But wait - there is more. I must admit that sometimes it occurred that, inadvertently, I lied and mislead my fellow animals about those nations and about international alliances”.

“Oh, Sire,” said the Afghan Hound, “We have the best of kings, whose scruples show his noble soul. But, I ask, why was mocking other countries a sin? Those low, retarded things were honoured when you made fun of them. And, I observe, this international alliance got what such meddling, bureaucratic organisations deserve. The European Union, exploiters all.”  

My attempt at fable writing is heavily indebted to the 17th century French writer Jean de la Fontaine, particularly ‘The Animals Stricken with the Plague’. The italics were lifted from Elizur Wright and Craig Hill’s translations of his work. Like many of his contemporaries, La Fontaine used animals to criticise the monarchy and the unfairness of the justice system.

In ‘The Animals…’, the lion-king gathers the animal kingdom to discover out who is responsible for the plague that has struck his state. Each animal, from the most to the least powerful, lists its sins. All are forgiven until we reach the poor, feeble ass, who owns up to having eaten a whole field of grass, a laughable transgression compared with the human and animal deaths acknowledged by fellow mammals. But the ass has no backing, no one dependent on his power, so he is condemned to death, which La Fontaine uses to illustrate his point that “human courts acquit the strong, and doom the weak, as therefore wrong.”

I have been thinking about this fable since Wednesday evening, when the new British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. My biggest issue with Boris Johnson isn’t that he supported Brexit. Rather, it is his repeated and well-documented insults against foreign powers. A few hours before nominating him, May had declared, on the steps of 10 Downing Street, that she would prioritise “not the mighty nor the wealthy nor the privileged” but the working class.

Yet giving Johnston the Foreign & Commonwealth Office immediately negated the spirit of her speech. You have to be extremely privileged to be handed a top foreign policy job despite repeatedly making fun of foreign states and dignitaries. Many FCO staffers Johnson addressed the next day would probably see their careers seriously hindered, if not terminated, had they made, on the record, even half of Johnson’s comments. The political court has, for now at least, acquitted the mighty, wealthy and privileged Johnson.

More non-white women should be making foreign policy decisions for Britain.

By Salina Ahmed

The first woman in Parliament took her seat in the House of Commons just 97 years ago. At the time, the UK’s gradual recognition of women's place in decision-making was expected to reorganise the dynamics of the political world. But when the Equal Franchise Act was passed in 1928, giving women equal voting rights to men, it became obvious that the stigma attached to the female gender was not going to disappear any time soon. In 1929, just 2.3% of MPs were female. After years of systematic construction of a regime that practised fixation of male gratification in events about leadership and achievement, voters inevitably believed women too imprudent to contribute to governmental success, let alone to represent her government in a foreign land.

The argument presented at the time is strangely familiar: it's a man's world. Women should not be in the workforce. Women are impressionable beings who, quite simply, do not bear the initiative of making important decisions. Women should sit tight, sit quiet and raise the children whilst watching their men make first a mess and then a mockery of the world. These ideas were so ingrained in society that Cicely Mayhew, the first female British diplomat, was only entrusted with the responsibility of making overseas decisions in the late 1940's.

This was not an archaic happening although it did create a scope for women to grow in their careers, or at least be recognised for their abilities with the appointment of higher positions. But as we sit proud, applauding this notion with the fallacious assumption that it is synonymous to female success in the UK, we remain absent-minded about the 14% of ethnic minorities who often go underrepresented. Where do we fit in?

The 2014-2015 Foreign and Commonwealth Office Diversity and Equality report states that only 27% of UK-based staff in senior civil service position are women. Out of all UK-based staff members, only 12% are from the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) background. Of them, a shocking 4% partake in senior roles. Are UK foreign services too white? At surface level this may not appear pertinent, but whilst we grow as a diverse country, we haven’t really succeeded as women until we have collaborated with all of them. We haven’t really succeeded as a nation either.

UK foreign policy is advanced through employing a comprehensive outlook of the world. To represent this country beyond its borders and foster important relationships or make conscious and appropriate overseas decisions, we need employees whose heritage, language proficiency, religious sensitivities and traditional customs help to build all the necessary connections. Diversity is important. I am important. My views, my ability, which I share with other non-white women, to take this country's foreign policy forward, should be considered as a topic of discussion, and not as a topic of otherness - both by this country's officials and by women from ethnic minorities themselves.

Currently, ethnic minorities have very little influence toward UK foreign policy because there are too few of us in our foreign service. But the potential it harbours is magnificent should more coloured women advance forward into the field, or were given the opportunity to do so. Whilst the majority of foreign issues concerning the UK are situated in non-white places geographically, this involuntarily involves us placing a greater responsibility on our shoulders. If fulfilled, we will not only employ the self-recognition of our ability to equally succeed in leadership roles, but we will also demonstrate that we can do so whilst carrying two or more parts of the world in our bodies. Only then will we succeed and thrive as female genders in foreign policy. Until then, more non-white women should be making higher decisions for Britain.

About the author:      Salina Ahmed  is an activist engaging on subjects pertaining to religion, social issues and politics. She has partaken in these matters through written entries and public settings, sharing platforms with other intellectuals. Salina currently works with an international development organisation in the Donations sector and is also the co-founder and Chief Visionary Officer of  Inspirited Minds , a charity which raises awareness about mental health illnesses in the Muslim and ethnic minority community. She wishes to see and contribute toward a world absent from ills, conscious of oppression and a society against doctrines of conformity where it is safe to be unpopular.

About the author: 

Salina Ahmed is an activist engaging on subjects pertaining to religion, social issues and politics. She has partaken in these matters through written entries and public settings, sharing platforms with other intellectuals. Salina currently works with an international development organisation in the Donations sector and is also the co-founder and Chief Visionary Officer of Inspirited Minds, a charity which raises awareness about mental health illnesses in the Muslim and ethnic minority community. She wishes to see and contribute toward a world absent from ills, conscious of oppression and a society against doctrines of conformity where it is safe to be unpopular.

Conference: Embassies in crisis

Earlier this month, Women in Foreign Policy interviewee Dr. Rogelia Pastor-Castro convened a conference about 'Embassies in crisis'. During the event, diplomats and academics discussed how embassies and their staff act during difficult times, from World War II to more recent civil wars such as Yemen and Ukraine. 

Fashion as soft power: all candidates looked the same at the London #SGdebate

It isn't just that all candidates at last night's Secretary General debate, organised by Guardian Live, UNA-UK, Future United Nations Development System and the Embassy of Denmark were males. It's also that they all looked the same. Not so much physically but because of their clothing. 

When the three men took the stage, the looked eerily alike, the way men in suits can: dark suit, fair shirt, black socks, black shoes and colourful tie. None of that business about showing your uniqueness through socks for UN hopefuls. 

I am not favouring any candidate based on his fashion choices but after listening to their answers, H.E. Antonio Guterres ended up being my favourite. Guterres was the one in a pink tie, whereas H.E. Vuk Jeremic and H.E. Dr. Igor Luksic opted for blue. In his answers, he came across as the most experienced in the UN arcane, the most thoughtful  in his answers and the best prepared. 

Because the three men dressed the same, the gender homogeneity on stage was even more obvious. You could argue that this meant that we could focus solely on their answers, that they had chosen to speak about their ideas rather than showing their personality through a gimmicky outfit choice. But the UN needs change and radical thought. Through their suits, Guterres, Jeremic and Luksic told me that none of them was the candidate ready to revolutionise the UN.  

Gender was a hot topic at last night's #SGdebate

Last night, The Guardian Live and UNA-UK held the latest @1For7Billion campaign #SGdebate. Three of the 11 candidates took the stage, all males. H.E. Antonio Guterres, Former UN High Commissioner for Refugees and former Prime Minister of Portugal came out strongest. H.E. Vuk Jeremic, former President of the UN General Assembly and former Foreign Minister of Serbia kept referring to his detailed platform. And H.E. Dr. Igor Luksic, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Montenegro seemed the least prepared and least knowledgeable about the organisation he aspires to lead. 

Moderator Mark Rice-Oxley opened the debate by acknowledging and explaining the lack of women (scheduling issues) but gender ended up being a hot topic on the night, both in the questions asked and on social media. 

As there was no female candidates on stage, the question "do you consider yourself a feminist" got applauded. How could any candidate have said no? Sadly, most answers focused on the important of 50-50 workforce at the UN, rather than looking into how you can protect and further women's rights and ensure gender equality around the world. 

Then a question was asked (but not really answered) about sexual misconduct by UN peacekeepers.

Interacting with foreign policy in high school: the Foreign Policy Work Group at First Colonial High School (USA)

By Brooke Habit, Senior, First Colonial High School

I've always had an interest in international affairs. It increased when I began studying French in middle school. It was the first time I was formally introduced to another language and culture and I found it fascinating. From that moment on, I had a desire to know more. As I entered high school at First Colonial in the Legal Studies Academy, my interest in foreign policy grew. I was being educated on U.S. law and criminal justice, and with this came discussions of how various countries' laws differed. My interest in these discussions only grew and I found myself wanting to learn more about foreign policy. I was introduced to Mr. John Sutton, advisor to the Foreign Policy Work Group, and began going on trips to Washington D.C. with him and other students who shared my same interests. These trips have offered those of us in Foreign Policy Work Group the opportunity to meet with people of varying professions involved in international affairs.

One of the first people I met, Ms. Rebecca Frankel, serves as an editor with Foreign Policy Magazine. She works closely with the photojournalism aspect of the magazine and has authored "War Dogs," a book which chronicles her research into dogs in the military. Speaking with her offered me a perspective of women in journalism. Ms. Frankel described some of her work in the Middle East and brought us into her personal office to view photos from her most recent trip. After this meeting, I knew I would never be able to remove myself from the world of international affairs and I wanted to know any and everything. Each subsequent trip to D.C. gave me more information. I became more committed to studying foreign languages and found myself watching the news every morning before school so I could begin each day with an understanding of things outside my personal bubble.

Through being a part of Foreign Policy Work Group, my worldview has shifted. I've always known there is something to be learned each day, but now I know that they are not just things from my world, but the world. I know global issues have no limits and am convinced I have the ability to play a pivotal role in how they are resolved. After becoming a part of Foreign Policy Work Group, I want to assume this role. My plans after high school are focused on what I would like to study in college that will allow me to continue to be involved in foreign policy. Young women today are not generally introduced to all that a career in foreign policy could offer. I had never considered this before joining Foreign Policy Work Group, but I now know it is a path I'd like to follow and I am considering a double major in international studies and French. My experiences and knowledge gained through my participation in Foreign Policy Work Group have played an intricate role in reaching this conclusion.

Founder's Note: What are your self-confidence tricks?

Hilary Stauffer, then a visiting fellow at the LSE Centre for the Study of Human Rights, gave me an incredibly useful piece of advice two years ago. Walking back to the Tube one evening, after cocktails at the Bassoon Bar, we started talking about women who are successful in their early 20s and how much it makes me feel like an underachiever. Hilary told me that from the outside, my life looked like one of those women's. I have a day job in luxury fashion marketing "a million girls would kill for". Women in Foreign Policy, two years in, is doing better than I ever hoped for. Through it, I meet the most amazing and inspirational women on an almost daily basis and connect with great readers. 

I was reminded of this discussion last week on the Eurostar, editing an upcoming interview with Foreign Policy Interrupted co-founder Lauren Bohn. She spoke at length about how no one ever sees the cutting room floor. She talked about women who contact FPI disappointed not to have the same New York Times bylines as their colleagues, forgetting that before prestigious gigs come dozens of rejections.

I get annoyed when the lack of women in positions of power is explained by a gender self-confidence problem. Yet, based on the (not fully representative) sample of the 100+ women I have interviewed, self-confidence is an issue we all grapple with, especially in 2016, when everybody makes a social media show of having their shit together.

I have an amazing mentor at work, one of those women the entire building is in awe of. You probably have one in your office too. So here's my advice: talk to her. Years ago, she explained to me how some things made her feel. It was one of the most useful conversations I ever had. Sometimes with self-confidence, you need to be given the right to feel that way, and to know that even the most incredible women, the ones you look up to and who you never think would feel doubt or uncertainty, do.  

Whenever I have doubts these days, I look at my life as an outsider would (thanks Hilary) and I think about how successful women might actually feel on a daily basis (thanks Jenna). By the way, the first paragraph? I put an Instagram filter on it. Truth is, I rarely go for cocktails at cool bars, mostly because my bedtime is around 8pm.

This article initially appeared in the April issue of the Women in Foreign Policy newsletter, a monthly round-up of the best career advice from our exclusive interviews. Sign up here

Founder's note: La Demoiselle d'Avignon, a fictional depiction of the 1970's French diplomatic corps

Don't look for Kurlande on the map of the Baltic, it doesn't exist. Yet for a generation of Frenchmen and women old enough to watch TV in 1972, Kurlande is the very real kingdom of Koba, heir to the benevolent reigning family. To celebrate graduation, Koba travels to Avignon to pay tribute to Adelaide, a French woman who married into the royal family during the Napoleonic Wars. There, she meets and falls for career diplomat François Fonsalette, who has no idea she is actual royalty.

The six-episodes TV series is sweet and naff at times, its novelisation reading like your average fan fiction. Yet when I first read and watched La Demoiselle d'Avignon in my early teens, I got slightly obsessed with it, not least because its description of the French diplomatic corps spoke to my career ambition of becoming an ambassador. 

Fonsalette works for the Quai d'Orsay, the French equivalent of the Foreign Office/State Department. The scenes taking place in his office depict a white, male and aristocratic diplomatic corps, a vision too many still entertain when thinking about "our man in X". 

Fonsalette is a second generation ambassador, his family owes the Fort Saint-Andre, by Avignon where an old-fashioned (even by 1972 standards) butler officiates. Yet like most of the French aristocracy, they are broke. Fonsalette might be a diplomat but archaeology is his real love. When we first meet him, he is digging the Fort's garden looking for a Roman sculpture. He is the 1970's epitome of the cultured French diplomat, quoting Chateaubriand and Latin on request.

At the Quai d'Orsay, we see Fonsalette interact with his friend and colleague, the Duc Adalbert de Roquefort-Chavignol, your typical French aristocrat: he pretends to live in a castle but really rents a council flat. Another colleague is the son of a powerful civil servant, inept at his job to the point of creating international incidents but impossible to get rid of thanks to daddy's support. 

In the first quarter of the book, Fonsalette gets himself named Ambassador to Kurlande so he can find Koba (but Koba has left for France as an au pair to find François). Kurlande, with its obsession for herring, its crazy king who likes plunging into freezing water when meeting new ambassadors and its half-French, half-German-ish language, is seen as a career dead end. 

Hébrard and Velle wrote some of their strongest scenes parodying the Quai d'Orsay life; the ones at the embassy are a close second. The windows don't close properly, running a bath is a noisy and uncertain expedition and the ambassador can only use a couple of rooms. Much like Fort Saint-Andre, the embassy is staffed with a dedicated, old-fashioned man who has made service his life mission. 

As fiction and in retrospect, La Demoiselle d'Avignon lightly criticised one of the worse traits of the Quai d'Orsay: how diplomacy was a shoe in career for many aristocratic sons. As a consequence, for years, it was impossible to imagine women holding high offices as they barely got a chance to get in. As I have made inspiring more girls and young women to choose a career in foreign policy, including in diplomacy, this site's mission, sometimes I like reminding myself of where we have come from.



Founder's note: Experiencing the power of Facebook advertising

Photo Instagram user  maritheleneg

Photo Instagram user maritheleneg

Facebook's advertising revenue rose to $5.2bn in the last quarter. Earlier this month, the social network made The Economist's cover. The article was a reminder of why its ad model is so successful: the wealth of data Facebook owns on its users. 

Based on my experience with Women in Foreign Policy (WIFP), Facebook advertising does work. I have been using it on and off for just under a year now. About a third of my 1,500+ page Likes comes from Facebook advertising. 

All in all, I have spent just shy of £500 in Page Like ads, newsletter sign up calls-to-action and post promotion. 

Take this interview with Angelina Albaladejo of the Latin America Working Group. I promoted it with £10 over seven days. It resulted in 358 post engagements and reached 4,630 people. These are the kind of stats companies like to boast about to demonstrate they are digitally savvy and that Millennials love them. And that's the flip side of booking Facebook advertising myself: I have stopped believing the PR firms do around their social media engagement numbers. If, with my small budget, I can gain that many Likes, imagine what someone with an actual marketing budget can do.

Although engagement numbers sound good, their quality is disappointing. Facebook's key success metric, on the Adverts Manager dashboard, is post engagements (Page and link Likes, click-throughs etc) and cost per user action. For WIFP, most engagement has been link Likes.

I don't know about you but when I go through my Facebook feed, I do a lot of mindless liking. It sounds good, or it was shared by my friend, so I like it. It doesn't mean I actually read it. Click-throughs, shares, Page Likes and comments are more valuable, but harder to get from an ad, no matter how targeted. Although I can know how many people like the idea of what I post, I don't have meaningful dialogue with them, which is frustrating. 

Of course, I am buzzed when people like links. But I'm not going to take WIFP forward solely with what makes me feel good. So in the next few months, I'm going to target my Facebook advertising to newsletter sign-ups and page likes, and see if this increases traffic.  

(You can follow us on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/womeninforeignpolicy/)






Founder's note: Diversity also means different universities

Legal Justice League by pixbymaia   Custom LEGO minifigures of the first four female justices of the U.S. Supreme Court: (l-r) Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Elena Kagan. Set and photo by Maia Weinstock.

Legal Justice League by pixbymaia

Custom LEGO minifigures of the first four female justices of the U.S. Supreme Court: (l-r) Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Elena Kagan. Set and photo by Maia Weinstock.

Earlier this month, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued for better diversity on the US Supreme Court, going beyond the definition of diversity as solely based on race and gender: 

“I for one, do think there’s a disadvantage from having [...] five Catholics [...] and three Jews on the court. [...] Everyone from an Ivy League school. And virtually everyone…from New York. There is no criminal defense lawyer on the court." [...]

The first Hispanic Supreme Court justice said having different backgrounds helped the justices “educate each other to be better listeners and better thinkers because we understand things from experience.”

“A different perspective can permit you to more fully understand the arguments that are before you and help you articulate your position in a way that everyone will understand” 

(From BuzzFeedNews)

When I started Women in Foreign Policy (WIFP), I wanted to show role models beyond gender: I wanted to interview women from all age groups and all ethnicities. I have recently realised that I also need to feature women who haven't come from the same universities that seem to provide candidates for most foreign policy jobs. 

Part of it is my own fault. Two years ago, when I started planning WIFP, my key issue was: how do I get women on the site? So I went to who I knew, my friends from the London School of Economics (LSE) and their acquaintances. It follows that in the early days, LSE alumni were overrepresented on the site. 

However, I have now published over 100 interviews. I don't believe it's chance, but rather a trend, that so many of them went to the LSE, King's College London (particularly the War Studies department), the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University or Georgetown University.

Of course they are respected universities, ranked highly on league tables, and their graduates tend to be successful across industries. But it also means that you end up with a unity of thought. I can spot an LSE grad from a single conversation, before knowing that's where they studied, based on how they frame arguments and their frame of reference.

This goes beyond how people are trained, it also speaks to the kind of students and life experiences these universities look for. Part of the reason might be self-reproductive: as it is known alumni go into foreign policy, prospective students who want to go into foreign policy are more likely to apply. I am also aware that universities aren't the only things that define the people who attend them. 

A key argument for more diversity in foreign policy, or in any sector, is that it can change the way organisations think and act. But if men and women are trained the same way, is that argument still valid? Or should we rejoice that there are more women, including women of colour, graduating from those universities who will be able to frame their points in ways that will talk to the majority, and has therefore a chance to win it over? 

As for my responsibility in this, I want to interview more women who didn't go to the ‘usual suspect’ foreign policy universities. I want to show to girls and current students that even if you didn't study at the ‘right’ university, you can still choose a career in the sector and make the difference you wish. 

What do you think? 



#HerForShe – Wasim Mir | Deputy Head of Mission | British Embassy Brasilia

Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy Brasilia  Wasim Mir

Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy Brasilia

Wasim Mir

What do you do in Brazil as Deputy Head of Mission?

I have  responsibilities across everything the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) does in Brazil. We have posts in six locations across the country. We employ over 250 people. I am in effect the chief operating officer of business, making sure it all comes together. I stand in for the ambassador when he is away and I lead on policies such as the EU-Mercosur trade negotiations, UN issues etc. This year I am also helping with the preparations for the Olympics

You were previously posted in New York at the United Nations. What was that like?

At the UN secretariat, I worked for the president of the general assembly on HIV aids. That was a fantastic experience. I got to work in a team of about 25 people made up of 16 different nationalities. The diversity of the team was   amazing and made us a better team.

You are senior sponsor for the Women’s Association at FCO. What does that entail?

The Women's Association is the biggest staff association in the Foreign Office with over 500 members. As a senior sponsor, I support their work and help engage with staff across the FCO including  senior managers. More importantly I help them set direction and help get things done. Right now we are working on our objectives for next year. I led work with the Women's Association and other associations to get more consistent data around diversity in the Foreign Office.

Recently, with a colleague here in Brazil, Kate Thornley, I helped on the Women's Association elections for a new leadership team. That was really successful, we have got over 1,000 votes for the different positions.

Why do you think it is important for the men to be involved in the women's association?

Prior to sponsoring the Women's Association, I was sponsoring the Minority Ethnic Association. I realised that if you just have minority ethnic staff talking about minority ethnic issues or if you just have women talking about women's issues, you are not going to make the kind of progress I really want to see. At FCO, we are aiming to go from having 27% of our senior staff being female to 39% over the next few years. If we are really going to do that, then men have got to help deliver that as well as women. 

I thought I should lead with example and start working with them as an association.

Is there a lot of men involved?

I think I was the first man to join the Women's Association and the first man to sponsor the Women's Association. Over the last year or two, we have seen more and more men get involved in helping the women's association do their work.

Obviously people working for the foreign office are spread all over the world. How does that work in terms of running an association?

The Women’s Association is a global association and it's open to everybody who works at FCO in all the posts across the world. We do events and activities that work across posts. For example, if we are delivering learning sets, then it is open to people in different posts to join by Video Conferences. Because of this geographical spread, we are also looking at different ways of working. For instance, in  Asia, a number of the women's associations have got together to form a kind of Asia chapter so that they can run more activities locally.

Here in Brazil, we've got a Brazil network Women's Association group.  Around International Women's Day, they did a fantastic event wherewomen within the embassy brought interesting female colleagues from outside to try and come build a wider network.

 How do you think having more women in the Foreign Office will change it?

Greater gender diversity will mean that the organisation is more diverse in the way that it thinks and in the way that it acts. This means that it will have a better balance in terms of the way staff are managed and abetter balance in the way that we are developing policies and the way that we look at risk. Ultimately, I think it will lead to better foreign policy and better results.

That is what we have seen in the private sector, organisations with a better gender balance, at board levels perform better that those with less balance.

What's the biggest challenge to women working for FCO?

We want to aim towards gender parity at all levels including at the very top. We have got a historic legacy. I don't think FCO in the past has been as committed to gender diversity as it could have been. It is an organisation with a very strong culture and there is work to do to change that culture so that it is more open to people irrespective of their backgrounds. 

Beyond that, the challenge is that women are able to lean in in an organisation which is global, visibility and networking are incredibly important.  

Do you have programmes to reach out to girls and younger women?

We do. I have been involved personally in outreach to universities. Last year I travelled to four universities across the north of England to try and get a bigger variety of people coming in at entry level. We've been relatively successful in terms of gender balance at entry level over the last few years, so, that's good news.

I think we also try and work with other organisations. Here in Brazil I am quite active in talking to the Brazilian foreign ministry about how they work on these issues so we can try and share experience.

Do you have any advice for a girl or young woman who would like to apply to FCO?

Don't be daunted by the application process. It is a long and it is a competitive process. If you are committed to working in this area, then go for it, lean in, just push as hard as you can. Try and get in contact with somebody in the organisation here understanding of it on how it works inside. Then finally if first you don't succeed, try again. 

What was your career like prior to working for FCO?

After university I spent three years in the Department for Education, working on education policies, doing things like taking nursery bills through parliament. After that I went to work in the European Commission and then after that I moved across to the Foreign Office. In the Foreign Office, I have mainly done multilateral work. I have worked in representations for EU twice and I have also worked in our mission to the United Nations as well as the United Nations itself. 

What is your favourite thing about working for the Foreign Office?

I think the greatest thing when I walked into the Foreign Office is the variety. If you like to experience new cultures, new environments, a job at FCO will bring you that as you move through your career. Within any job, there is a variety of things that you are dealing with. On a daily basis, I could be dealing with the flood in our embassy or I could be  influencing on policy, on disarmament or on trade or on peace-keeping.

The Embassy Team in Brasília

The Embassy Team in Brasília

The University Series: What is it like to study at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service?

Georgetown University by Flickr user sillymonkeyphoto. Distributed under Creative Commons License.

My name is Aisha Babalakin, and I recently joined Women in Foreign Policy team as a contributor. This January, I moved to San Francisco from New York City, where I worked for The Glover Park Group, a strategic communications and government affairs firm, and Ara, an African Bone Marrow Donor Recruitment Program. I still serve on the board of Ara, but I moved to the West Coast for a little more sun and to further my interest in design, film, and media. 

Last May, I graduated from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University (The SFS), with a degree in International Politics and Arabic. The SFS, the McDonough School of Business, the School of Nursing and Health Studies, and the Georgetown College make up Georgetown University. The SFS is one of the world’s leading international affairs schools. It is continuously ranked among the top 10 undergraduate International Relations schools in the country. Our Faculty boasts of former Cabinet Members (Madeleine Albright), prominent figures in International Affairs, Policy, Law, and Economics (Dennis Ross, Yvonne Haddad, Elisabeth Arsenault, Marc Busch, Anthony Arend), former Government officials (Rajiv Shah) and Brookings Fellows (Elizabeth Ferris). SFS students are fortunate because Georgetown is located in the heart of Washington, D.C. For a politics nerd like me, choosing to attend the School of Foreign Service counts as one of the best decisions of my life. Some of my favourite moments from my 4 years at Georgetown include: 

- “Storming” the White House on the night of Obama’s re-election 

- Venturing to the Supreme Court to hear Oral Arguments for Fisher v. University of Texas (2013) 

- Visiting the National Portrait Gallery’s “Portraits of the Presidents” too many times to count - I could never pick a favorite, but Richard Nixon's comes close

- Attending lectures given by Madeleine Albright, Michael Walzer, Bill Clinton, Muhammed Yunus, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to name a few. 

I also chose to attend Georgetown because I value the university's commitment to its Jesuit values, and to service in general. Being a man or woman "for others" is important to Georgetown students, and the university sets out to instill a sense of community, understanding, and awareness within the student body. Everyone had a different way to serve their community outside of the classroom. In my case, I tutored after school during my first two years, joined the Tour Guide Society, and became heavily involved in "GIVES" - Georgetown Individuals Vocal and Energetic about Service. In my opinion, “community service” shouldn’t be an allocated number of hours per week. Rather, I believe that we should introduce a sense of service into everything we do. 

The most valuable lesson I learned at university is that one has to take advantage of all the resources provided to you. It is important to seek out mentors (whether they be your peers or someone older than you) and pay attention to their advice. I am so thrilled to be contributing to Women in Foreign Policy because I want to do everything within my power to help get more women interested in the topic, and grow the community. If you’re interested in International Relations, you should look up the Summer IR Institute for high school students. 

By Aisha Babalakin. Find her on Twitter | LinkedIn