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Breaking Through The Glass Ceiling

by on February 6, 2014

The history of the International Politics have been associated with males predominately. The earliest diplomatic pioneers, like Niccolo Machiavelli, were stressing out the importance of masculine characteristics in conducting state relationships. However male government officials relied on women’s unpaid labour in maintaining relations with their political counterpart. Before women were admitted as diplomats, diplomatic wives played a vital role in bridging relationships among male members from different diplomatic missions. (The Next Women, 2012). First permanent diplomatic mission was established between Venice and Milan in 1455; first ambassador was also appointed in that year (Kavan, Matejka and Ort, 2008, 14). Who was the first female ambassador and when was she appointed?

It was Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai in 1923, the first women-ambassador in the world. She was first appointed as Soviet Ambassador to Norway and later on to Mexico and Sweden (Presidential Library, 2009). In America, it was Ruth Bryan Owen. She was appointed as the first female chief of mission and head of the U.S embassy for Denmark and Iceland in 1933. However it was not until 1949 when first women was appointed as chief of mission at the ambassador level. It was Helen Eugenie Moore Anderson, ambassador to Denmark (U.S. Department of State, Women in Diplomacy, 2005). What about United Kingdom?


In Britain the first female diplomat was Cicely Mayhew. Her posting was in the late 1940’s to Belgrade. However her marriage in 1949 ended her diplomatic career. All female diplomats were required, among others, to resign on marriage. The so called marriage bar remained in place until 1973 (Barker, Britain’s First Female Diplomat, 2009).  What were the arguments put in place to stop women from becoming diplomats?

The first was that women could not serve in places considered unsafe, as a result men would end up with too many hardship assignments. The other argument was, in short, that if the male diplomats come with the female spouse, diplomatic wife would represent government as well therefore the government will get two for the price of one (Linse, 2004, 253). How is ‘diplomacy’ dealing with women and promotion?

Linse (2004, 253) looked at the glass ceiling phenomenon in diplomacy when she points out that women have difficulties in being promoted beyond the junior and mid-levels. In 1976 Alison Parker, a mid-level career officer, sued the US Department of State for not being promoted. The case was not settled until 1990. Palmer argued that women were under represented in general and also clustered at the junior and mid-levels. The court ruled that part of the violation of decimation laws was the fact that women were not given the opportunities and experience necessary to be promoted (Linse, 2004, 253). What is the situation of women in diplomacy nowadays?

Interesting situation has recently occurred in Hong Kong. From the 60 consuls generals present in Hong Kong, only 10 are female. Nevertheless such is considered as achievement. The women diplomats serving in Hong Kong have created women-only network. Every few months Rita Hammerli-Weshcke, Switzerland’s diplomat to Hong Kong organizes a lunch where invitation is exclusive; you must be a women and consul general. All of the women representing their country in Hong Kong believe that the number of the female diplomats will be rising (Lam, South China Morning Post, 2014).

The diplomacy of the 21st century has to be represented equally by men and women. The old stereotypes of women being weak are vulnerable are no longer valid. Diplomacy shall reflect the view of the society as whole. Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of their perspective and views at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved (Rahman-Figueroa, Diplomatic Courier, 2012).



Barker, A. (2009), ‘Britain’s first female diplomats’, The Financial Times Magazine, November 6th 2009. – accessed on 03/02/2014

Diplomatic Courier (2006), ‘CELEBRATING THE RISE OF WOMEN IN DIPLOMACY’, March 8th 2012. – accessed on 03/02/2014

Kavan, J., Matejka, Z., Ort, A., 2008. Diplomacy. Plzen: Ales Cenek.

Linse, C., 2004. Challenges Facing Women In Overseas Diplomatic Positions. – accessed on 03/02/2014

Presidential Library Named After Boris Yeltsin (2009), ‘The first woman diplomat Alexandra Kollontai born’. – accessed on 03/02/2014

South China Morning Post (2014), ‘Women diplomats in Hong Kong have broken through the glass ceiling’, February 2nd 2014. – accessed on 03/02/2014

The Next Women (2009), ‘Celebrating the Rise of Women in Diplomacy’, March 7th 2012. – accessed on 03/02/2014

U.S. Department of State, ‘Women in Diplomacy’, November 2006, – accessed on 03/02/2014

Video, tweets and picture:

YouTube: – accessed on 03/02/2014…….0…1ac..34.img..0.0.0.kfib2Y2FNLA#facrc=_&imgdii=_& – accessed on 06/02/2014 – accessed on 06/02/2014


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  1. This is an interesting piece, but I am not clear about how it addresses the central themes of the module. To do so, it would have to make a case for a greater proportion of women in diplomatic services making a difference to a country’s public diplomacy performance. For all of its merits, this is perhaps one to leave out of your portfolio. Your other posts are much more relevant to the module.

  2. This blog seems very interesting and i totally agree with the conclusion, it is important to include women if we want equality within diplomacy.

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