Editions:  Austria · Denmark · France · Germany · Italy · Norway · Spain · Sweden · Switzerland
Advertisement

Glass ceiling means diplomacy is still a man's world

Share this article

13:11 CEST+02:00
Barely a fifth of diplomats in Berlin are women – and things are barely better elsewhere. The Local looks at the glass ceiling in the world's foreign ministries.

Worldwide efforts to bring more women into diplomacy are having limited effects, at least if the diplomatic corps in Berlin is anything to go by, official German figures show.

Some 77 percent of foreign diplomats in Germany are men, according to the German Foreign Ministry's latest list of accredited diplomatic staff.

Women make up more than half of the diplomats in only 40 of the 183 diplomatic missions in Berlin.

Predictably, culturally conservative countries in the developing world have the fewest women diplomats: none of the 24 Iranian diplomats in Berlin are women; one out of 34 Saudi diplomats is female. Yet many western countries do little better: at both the French and British missions, 82 percent of diplomatic staff are men, according to the list.

Canada, a country with a reputation as a bastion of sexual equality, has 82 percent male diplomats in its German mission. The United States performs somewhat better than the larger European countries, with 76 percent men, 24 percent women.

The countries with the highest levels of female representation in Germany include Jamaica, where all four diplomatic staff in Berlin are women. Among states with slightly larger missions in Germany, nine out of fifteen, or 60 percent of Filipino diplomats are women. Eight out of fifteen Australian diplomats are women (53 percent).

Among European countries, Sweden and Italy are beacons of equality, with 47 and 46 percent women respectively. Women are less well represented among staff at the mission of Sweden's Scandinavian neighbour Denmark, where only 37 percent of diplomats are female.

The list of diplomats in Berlin might only provide a snapshot of the international situation, but it reflects a global reality - increasing the representation of women in the highest ranks of countries' foreign services has been painfully slow. This at a time when promoting women's issues, particularly in the developing world, has become a stated aim of many western countries' foreign ministries.

The United States has allowed women to become diplomats since 1922, with the UK and Canada allowing women into their foreign services since the 1940s. Yet until 1974, women diplomats in the US Foreign Service were expected to give up their jobs upon marriage.

Many countries boast that they have more senior women diplomats than before. During his two terms in office, Bill Clinton appointed 116 women to top positions such as ambassador or assistant secretary of state. George W Bush appointed 69 women to such positions in his first term. Despite this, they still represent only a fraction of the total.

Germany itself has, on the face of it, done a bit better than many other countries. Of the 2994 German diplomats currently serving abroad, a respectable 1241 (41 percent) are female. But even here, things are not as good as at first they seem: of the 1,467 diplomats at the Foreign Office's highest rank, only 354 are female.

Things are improving – these days, the highly competitive annual entrance exams frequently result in a more evenly balanced intake, according to a Foreign Office spokeswoman. For Germany as for other countries, a more balanced intake today should lead to better representation at higher levels as they rise up the ranks.

Other measures intended to increase the number of women in the profession include flexible working time, particularly at the Foreign Office in Berlin, as well as openness to job sharing and other creative solutions. Such solutions work particularly well with married couples, when both are diplomats. In Brussels, for instance, two women in the German Embassy to Belgium share a job, while their husbands both work at the German Embassy to the European Union.

Such flexibility is possible as long as both partners in a relationship are diplomats, but if a diplomat's partner has a different kind of career it can be hard to find a solution – however flexible the Foreign Office is. Often, when choosing between a man's career and a woman's career, the brutal truth is that for many couples it is the man's career that wins. Applicants to the German foreign service are encouraged to give thought to the pitfalls:

“We try in the assessment to make sure that people have thought this through and are flexible,” the Foreign Office spokeswoman told The Local.

The gender disparity among diplomats does not always mean that embassies and consulates are all-male environments. At the British Embassy in Berlin, only about one fifth of staff are diplomats, with the rest hired locally. Add the local recruits into the mix and the proportion of women is much higher, British officials say.

Very little research has been done on why so few women have made it into the diplomatic corps, but Katharina Pühl at the Centre for the Promotion of Women's and Gender Studies at the Free University of Berlin says that the career structures in diplomacy as in many other fields are simply built around men.

“It's not easy to combine family with moving around if you are a woman,” she says.

Pühl also argues that in a wider context, society views men as more competent to deal with political issues: “This is tied in with general thinking about men and women. Women are seen as too emotional, not rational enough.”

Scandinavian countries have some of the highest levels of female representation among cabinet ministers and members of parliament. As Pühl argues, “the gender order in Scandinavia is different to that in Germany and most other countries. This is due both to institutional structures and social values.”

But when it comes to diplomacy, women are still heavily outnumbered in Scandinavia too. Of 99 Swedish ambassadors and consuls-general, 31 are women – less than one third of the total. As in Germany, women are better represented in middle and lower ranking jobs. Of middle-ranking administrative officials posted abroad, 190 are women; 166 are men. At the lowest rank of officials posted abroad, 103 are women and 24 are men.

What the figures from Berlin show, more than anything, is that the diplomatic world reflects reality in the wider world. After all, women hold only 11.2 percent of all board seats in Fortune Global 200 companies, according to Corporate Women Directors International's 2007 report. German-based companies on the list perform even worse – here, just 10.9 percent of board members are women.

In boardrooms, as in the world's embassies, it is often said that women are choosing to focus on family instead of advancing their careers. The question is whether it will be proven in the long run that one need not exclude the other.

Order Country %
Women
%
Men
Women Men Total
1 Jamaica 100% 0% 4 0 4
2 Seychelles 100% 0% 1 0 1
3 Suriname 100% 0% 1 0 1
4 Guatemala 67% 33% 2 1 3
5 Iceland 67% 33% 2 1 3
6 Madagascar 63% 38% 5 3 8
7 Philippines 60% 40% 9 6 15
8 Haiti 60% 40% 3 2 5
9 New Zealand 60% 40% 3 2 5
10 Serbia 55% 45% 6 5 11
11 Finland 54% 46% 7 6 13
12 Australia 53% 47% 8 7 15
13 Kenya 50% 50% 5 5 10
14 Latvia 50% 50% 4 4 8
15 Estonia 50% 50% 3 3 6
16 Armenia 50% 50% 2 2 4
17 Mali 50% 50% 2 2 4
18 Liberia 50% 50% 1 1 2
19 Malta 50% 50% 1 1 2
20 Mauritius 50% 50% 1 1 2
21 Monaco 50% 50% 1 1 2
22 Nicaragua 50% 50% 1 1 2
23 Sweden 47% 53% 7 8 15
24 Italy 46% 54% 11 13 24
25 Austria 44% 56% 8 10 18
26 Argentina 44% 56% 4 5 9
27 Ghana 44% 56% 4 5 9
28 Portugal 44% 56% 4 5 9
29 Gabon 43% 57% 3 4 7
30 Namibia 43% 57% 3 4 7
31 Tanzania 43% 57% 3 4 7
32 Guinea 40% 60% 2 3 5
33 Cameroon 40% 60% 2 3 5
34 Sri Lanka 40% 60% 2 3 5
35 Uganda 40% 60% 2 3 5
36 Thailand 38% 62% 5 8 13
37 Croatia 38% 63% 3 5 8
38 Myanmar 38% 63% 3 5 8
39 Hungary 36% 64% 5 9 14
40 Spain 35% 65% 6 11 17
41 China 34% 66% 30 58 88
42 Netherlands 33% 67% 6 12 18
43 Bulgaria 33% 67% 5 10 15
44 Belgium 33% 67% 4 8 12
45 Lithuania 33% 67% 4 8 12
46 Norway 33% 67% 4 8 12
47 Syria 33% 67% 3 6 9
48 Singapore 33% 67% 2 4 6
49 Bangladesh 33% 67% 1 2 3
50 Benin 33% 67% 1 2 3
51 Bolivia 33% 67% 1 2 3
52 Burundi 33% 67% 1 2 3
53 Honduras 33% 67% 1 2 3
54 Liechtenstein 33% 67% 1 2 3
55 Luxembourg 33% 67% 1 2 3
56 Panama 33% 67% 1 2 3
57 Sierra Leone 33% 67% 1 2 3
58 Ivory Coast 31% 69% 4 9 13
59 South Africa 31% 69% 4 9 13
60 Romania 29% 71% 6 15 21
61 India 29% 71% 4 10 14
62 Georgia 29% 71% 2 5 7
63 Zimbabwe 29% 71% 2 5 7
64 Slovenia 29% 71% 2 5 7
65 Slovakia 27% 73% 3 8 11
66 Denmark 27% 73% 4 11 15
67 Brazil 26% 74% 6 17 23
68 Greece 26% 74% 6 17 23
69 Indonesia 25% 75% 5 15 20
70 Ethiopia 25% 75% 1 3 4
71 Brunei 25% 75% 1 3 4
72 Ecuador 25% 75% 1 3 4
73 Cambodia 25% 75% 1 3 4
74 Malawi 25% 75% 1 3 4
75 Chad 25% 75% 1 3 4
76 Turkmenistan 25% 75% 1 3 4
77 USA 24% 76% 11 35 46
78 Cuba 23% 77% 3 10 13
79 Morocco 23% 77% 3 10 13
80 Burkina Faso 22% 78% 2 7 9
81 Peru 22% 78% 2 7 9
82 Belarus 20% 80% 3 12 15
83 Angola 20% 80% 2 8 10
84 Pakistan 20% 80% 2 8 10
85 Sudan 20% 80% 2 8 10
86 Bosnia Herzegovina 20% 80% 1 4 5
87 Macedonia 20% 80% 1 4 5
88 Moldova 20% 80% 1 4 5
89 Poland 19% 81% 6 25 31
90 Canada 18% 82% 4 18 22
91 Azerbaijan 18% 82% 2 9 11
92 United Kingdom 18% 82% 5 23 28
93 France 18% 82% 9 42 51
94 Albania 17% 83% 1 5 6
95 Dominican Republic 17% 83% 1 5 6
96 Ireland 17% 83% 1 5 6
97 Kyrgyzstan 17% 83% 1 5 6
98 Togo 17% 83% 1 5 6
99 Vietnam 14% 86% 3 18 21
100 Iraq 14% 86% 2 12 14
101 Congo 14% 86% 1 6 7
102 Zambia 14% 86% 1 6 7
103 Russia 13% 87% 14 93 107
104 Egypt 13% 87% 3 20 23
105 Japan 13% 88% 3 21 24
106 Afghanistan 13% 88% 1 7 8
107 United Arab Emirates 13% 88% 1 7 8
108 Malaysia 13% 88% 1 7 8
109 Venezuela 13% 88% 1 7 8
110 Mexico 11% 89% 1 8 9
111 Czech Republic 11% 89% 2 17 19
112 Switzerland 10% 90% 1 9 10
113 Israel 10% 90% 4 37 41
114 Libya 9% 91% 2 20 22
115 Senegal 9% 91% 1 10 11
116 Turkey 8% 92% 3 34 37
117 Kazakhstan 8% 92% 1 12 13
118 Ukraine 6% 94% 1 15 16
119 Saudi-Arabia 3% 97% 1 33 34
120 Barbados 0% 100% 0 1 1
121 Belize 0% 100% 0 1 1
122 Djibouti 0% 100% 0 1 1
123 Guinea-Bissau 0% 100% 0 1 1
124 Montenegro 0% 100% 0 1 1
125 Papua New Guinea 0% 100% 0 1 1
126 Solomon Islands 0% 100% 0 1 1
127 San Marino 0% 100% 0 1 1
128 Sao Tome and Principe 0% 100% 0 1 1
129 Holy See 0% 100% 0 2 2
130 Swaziland 0% 100% 0 1 1
131 Tonga 0% 100% 0 1 1
132 Palestine 0% 100% 0 1 1
133 Equatorial Guinea 0% 100% 0 2 2
134 Bahrain 0% 100% 0 2 2
135 DR Congo 0% 100% 0 2 2
136 Eritrea 0% 100% 0 2 2
137 Cape Verde 0% 100% 0 2 2
138 Lesotho 0% 100% 0 2 2
139 Costa Rica 0% 100% 0 3 3
140 Laos 0% 100% 0 3 3
141 El Salvador 0% 100% 0 3 3
142 Qatar 0% 100% 0 3 3
143 Lebanon 0% 100% 0 3 3
144 Paraguay 0% 100% 0 3 3
145 Rwanda 0% 100% 0 3 3
146 Somalia 0% 100% 0 3 3
147 Tajikistan 0% 100% 0 3 3
148 Jordan 0% 100% 0 4 4
149 Mozambique 0% 100% 0 4 4
150 Colombia 0% 100% 0 5 5
151 Mauritania 0% 100% 0 5 5
152 Nepal 0% 100% 0 5 5
153 Oman 0% 100% 0 5 5
154 Uruguay 0% 100% 0 5 5
155 Cyprus 0% 100% 0 5 5
156 Algeria 0% 100% 0 7 7
157 Mongolia 0% 100% 0 7 7
158 Chile 0% 100% 0 8 8
159 Kuwait 0% 100% 0 8 8
160 Yemen 0% 100% 0 9 9
161 Nigeria 0% 100% 0 11 11
162 Uzbekistan 0% 100% 0 11 11
163 North Korea 0% 100% 0 15 15
164 South Korea 0% 100% 0 17 17
165 Tunisia 0% 100% 0 18 18
166 Iran 0% 100% 0 24 24
< Prev Next >

Get notified about breaking news on The Local

Share this article

Advertisement

From our sponsors

The Swedish university tackling the challenges of tomorrow

Ranked among the world's best young universities in the QS Top 50 Under 50, Linköping University (LiU) uses innovative learning techniques that prepare its students to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Jobs
Click here to start your job search
Advertisement
Advertisement

Popular articles

Advertisement
Advertisement