Walking into the British Parliament, you go through St Stephen's Hall. On both sides, statues of famous Parliamentarians, all men, stand tall. Continue into a Committee room and, chances are, there are more representations of men staring at you.
Yet men were under-represented at the Young Professional in Foreign Policy event dedicated to Women in Foreign Policy. Per panellist Hilary Stauffer's count, there were only 12 of them, a fact Stauffer regretted as we do need men's support to have more women working in the field.
At the event, human rights lawyer and LSE Visiting Fellow Stauffer discussed the barriers, prejudices and advantages women face in the field alongside Hawthorn London director and former UK Ambassador to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador Julie Chappell OBE and founder and executive director of the Policy Centre for African People Sylvie Aboa-Bradwell.
Julie Chappell, Partner at Hawthorn London and former UK Ambassador to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador
Chappell, who spent nearly 15 years at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) before moving to the private sector in late 2014, said she'd hardly met any barrier at FCO. Significant improvements have been made since the days when women had to resign upon getting engaged.
She said the public service probably has some of the most accommodating policies when it comes to family life. At FCO, this translates into couples job-sharing as ambassadors, flexible working hours and the possibility to hold a London-based job from a remote location.
While posted abroad, Chappell discovered that being a female diplomat almost made her a third sex: despite not being a man, she was allowed into places she would never have been to otherwise.
She rarely felt outrageous prejudice, although she said she did have to prove herself and work at being taken seriously but, as the youngest British ambassador, that had more to do with age than gender.
In terms of advantages, being a woman ambassador made her more interesting and widened her sphere of influence. For instance, she was able to reach out to youth organisations no male ambassador had ever spoken to before.
Stauffer hasn't faced many gender-based obstacles either. She argued that it also had to do with her background as a white, middle-class American growing up around Washington DC.
Her international law specialism, human rights, is female-dominated because it is seen as more nurturing.
As it was always the field she wanted to get into, Stauffer has been willing to make sacrifices; for instance moving country regularly and choosing to put off having a family.
Although she hasn't faced barriers herself, she was quick to remind attendees that they do exist:
- 22% of the world parliamentarians are women
- 13% of ministers are women
- 19% of staff on UN field missions are women
- there were only three female leaders in the post-Charlie Hebdo Paris march
Women are a minority in most international discussions. None of the significant actors in the Middle East peace process are female, she noted.
Sylvie Aboa-Bradwell, Founder and executive director of the Policy Centre for African People
As women in the West, we don't face challenges, only opportunities suggested Aboa-Bradwell in the opening of her speech.
No law forbids us from getting involved in the field we want, knowing we will face discriminations should encourage us to come up with a plan to overcome them and because of the lack of women, we are more likely to stand out. We shouldn't let anyone restrict us for gender reasons.
Aboa-Bradwell's advice to make it to the top as a woman in foreign policy:
- think not like a man or a woman, but like a human being
- find a good mentor
- invest in a good leadership development course
Lastly: the nature of foreign policy in the 21st century has changed. Foreign policy and domestic issues are increasingly linked. Now, we live in a multipolar world that functions in concentric circles, the old block analysis doesn't work anymore. Yet no one has found a satisfactory framework to explain it. Could a woman be the first?