Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Women in the Foreign Service

The Washington Post yesterday had an interesting piece on the "Hillary Effect" and how Secretary Clinton is credited with bringing more women into ambassadorial positions in the U.S. According to the article, there are now 25 female ambassadors posted in Washington (including the first ever from a Muslim country, Hunaina Sultan Al-Mughairy of Oman), the highest number ever. Women remain, however, a distinct minority among the 182 accredited ambassadors in Washington.

Today, DiploPundit has an interesting piece on "The Palmer Effect".

Alison Palmer, the woman who helped get more women into the U.S. State Department, was hired as a FSO in 1959. In 1970, the Department paid for her to earn a Master's in African studies from Boston University. Yet despite her experience and degree, she was turned down for several assignments in Africa after ambassadors wrote that they didn't want her because she was a woman. She ended up as a social secretary to the wife of an ambassador who did not want her because she was a woman.

This was at a time when just nine percent of Foreign Service officers were women. By 2007, it was 37 percent. Palmer, now 78, wonders why it is not 51%, like the general population.

You can read all of DiploPundit's excellent post here.

I do wonder whether sexism is completely dead and gone in the State Department. I know that for my own A-100 class, which was about 50% female, only 20% of the women in the class were tenured on the first go round, compared with 50% of the men. And of those tenured, again about 20% of the women and 50% of the men were promoted. Those statistics bothered me, and several other of the the women in the class (whether tenured and promoted or not), but we decided not to say anything about it.

Clearly the Department has come a long way in hiring and promoting women, minorities, and gays and lesbians. I am optimistic the trend will continue, but we are still have a ways to go.


Me, PhD said...

Sexism still thrives, and sadly it haunts us at all levels.

A female academic is about the same odds on the statistical pool as a female FSO for ratio in the workplace. Tenure now . . . that's a different issue on the academic front. Women will get tenure with fewer publications than men because women and non-white hires in the academy are still low.

Not to defend the system, but part of the reason women are promoted in smaller percentages than men is because women have babies. Just the recovery from that can set them back. And, yes, "good ol' boy" networks still corrupt.

Oddly, I'm attempting to make the leap from academic to federal service (preferably via the FS). That right there should say I'm a good candidate; though, in light of things . . . Yea, I'm a sucker who takes the hard road because it's more fun. Not to mention, I just hijacked your post today. Sorry . . .

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link, Digger!

Digger said...

The thing with our evaluations for tenure and promotion though is that all references to taking time off for having children, illness or anything are prohibited. But you do know the sex of the person being evaluated.

All of us are considered for tenure after we have been in for three years. During that time, I don't think many of my classmates had children, so time off should have been a non-issue. But there is so little transparency in our tenure and promotion process that it is hard to tell.

Me, PhD said...

True, the lack of reproducing would make those differ . . . one would think. I can't help but wonder if promotion potential isn't connected to who someone is dating, married to, and what not. And, as with lots of things, it depends on who you know, being in the right place at the right time, and shaking the right hands to collect the right business cards. Sorry, I sound bitter. I'm not . . . I'm just blunt. You know that old adage about a man can't have a woman with more success than him? Yea, I just opened another Pandora's Box. Even with so many details deleted, it is never too hard to put details together to figure out who someone is.

I think the transparency issue is the larger box to look at. Until then, theorist like myself will come in with every conjecture in the book. But, I will say the numbers are glaring.