Women are at last being appointed to the UK’s top diplomatic postsby Rupert Joy / August 11, 2020 / Leave a comment
A quiet revolution has been underway over the past decade in Britain’s diplomatic service, as more and more women are occupying the UK’s top diplomatic posts.
It is years since the leadership of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office realised that it could not represent UK society, or credibly promote gender equality abroad through initiatives such as “Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict” and the #LeaveNoGirlBehind education campaign, without more women as ambassadors. The number of female appointments has grown steadily and 30 per cent of the UK’s 160 heads of mission are now women. However, until recently, very few have reached the most senior and sought-after ambassador roles.
With the appointment so far in 2020 of Karen Pierce as Ambassador to the US, Barbara Woodward as Permanent Representative to the UN, Caroline Wilson to China, Jill Gallard to Germany and Deborah Bronnert to Russia, many of the most important positions are now held by women—often for the first time in centuries of diplomatic relations. This is no blip. It continues an upward trajectory of appointments of women to G20 countries and other senior diplomatic posts abroad. Around half of the top heads of mission, including those in Australia, Canada, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Kenya and the UK Delegation to NATO, are now women. Many—like Pierce, now on her fourth head of mission post—are highly experienced, having served in multiple ambassador roles.
“When I joined the FCO in 2001, there were very few senior women and very few female role models,” says Judith Gough, the UK’s Ambassador to Sweden, who has also served as ambassador to Ukraine and Georgia. “This came as a shock after six years working in the private sector. But I can honestly say that the Foreign Office has changed over the past two decades, with more support and encouragement for women to reach the top and more talented women coming up through the ranks. There is, of course, still some way to go, but the path is firmly set and I expect the number of senior female diplomats to grow.”
It has been a slow process getting to this point. Women did not become eligible to join the diplomatic service until 1946. Even after that, recruitment of women remained limited. Until 1972, their…