Highlighting Women's Roles in Public Service As We #EngageAmerica

Secretary Kerry met last month with women ambassadors who represent the State Department around the world during our annual Chiefs of Mission Conference. Secretary Kerry thanked them for their outstanding work on behalf of the United States. For me, seeing these extraordinary women, all gathered together in one place, was a powerful reminder of the critical role women play in shaping our world. Looking back on the image of this group of almost 50 women, I can’t help but be proud -- both as a woman and an American -- of each of these leaders for serving as symbols of empowerment for women and girls globally. Moreover, I am inspired by the work they do on the frontlines of our foreign policy, which directly impacts the lives of Americans in various ways.

Since women were permitted to join the U.S. diplomatic corps in 1922, they have slowly made their way to the highest leadership positions in the State Department. The first woman appointed chief of mission at the ambassador level, Helen Eugenie Moore Anderson, was named U.S. Ambassador to Denmark in 1949. In the ensuing years, the number of female appointments as chief of mission was slim, but over the last 20 years, the State Department has made some unequivocal gains. Women now account for 32 percent of the Department’s senior leadership positions. The fact that one in three chiefs of mission today is female -- compared to one in ten, two decades ago -- demonstrates we are moving in the right direction.

Today, female U.S. diplomats today serve in countries, from Algeria to Ethiopia to Libya, where just the thought of their presence would have once been unthinkable. Leading teams around the globe, they are grappling with some of the toughest issues that challenge our peace, prosperity, and security in the 21st century. These women are on the front lines addressing U.S. international priorities including climate change, trade, refugees, and countering violent extremism.

Helping to share their stories is central to the State Department’s recently launched Engage America public outreach initiative. Engage America aims to encourage an ongoing dialogue between our diplomats and the American people about the important value of diplomacy as well as its tangible impact on their lives right here at home. As we answer Secretary Kerry’s call for U.S. diplomats to bring their stories home and to meet with Americans in communities throughout the country, women ambassadors will continue to be an integral part of that conversation. All of our public servants work to keep our nation safer and more secure while representing our values and our diversity to the world. As women in leadership positions, however, these particular diplomats offer a unique perspective that is worth highlighting as we educate our citizens about the value of our diplomacy efforts and as we aim to recruit a workforce that more closely reflects America in all of its rich diversity.

Our country will reach its full potential only when both men and women are well-represented in international service. Over the past two decades, the State Department has been building a generation of women leaders who are investing in our national interests while providing leadership to change the way global solutions are forged. We will continue to break down barriers for women because our country will be stronger and more prosperous when all Americans participate in the important work of diplomacy.

About the Author: Karen Richardson currently serves as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.

Editor's Note: This blog entry also appears in the State Department's Modern Diplomacy publication on Medium.com.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with U.S. ambassadors during the 2016 Chief of Mission Conference at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 15, 2016.
Posted by Karen Richardson
May 2, 2016

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