Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (back row center) and the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, September 1995. Photo courtesy of the White House
By Cait Dallaire
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright famously said, “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” Albright’s passing in late March, along with the historic confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, April 7, has brought the role of women leaders to the forefront of the news cycle. In celebration of Jackson’s confirmation, Vice President Kamala Harris shared an image of President Joe Biden standing with two women of color now serving in some of the highest offices in the nation. For women—and especially women of color—the photo represents the herculean effort required for these remarkable women to ascend to these positions.
In 2021, management consulting company McKinsey & Company and nonprofit organization LeanIn.org joined forces to produce the “Women in the Workplace” report, which Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley shared with the Department of State’s workforce earlier this year. The data revealed some startling truths, showing that women consistently invest more in supporting their colleagues’ well-being; senior-level women take on an even heavier sponsorship load than those at more junior levels; and women—especially senior women—experience burnout at high rates due to these factors. The report also showed that when women leave their passion-driven, service-oriented jobs (e.g., government)—or simply leave the workforce altogether—society is negatively impacted by that loss. The employer loses that woman’s knowledge and talents, while other women and underrepresented individuals lose the mentorship that she was providing.
Executive Women@State (EW@S), a Department employee organization, has made its mission the achievement of gender parity in leadership roles for all levels of career women at the Department, especially women who are part of other underrepresented groups. Members of the Foreign Service, Civil Service, and contractors are welcome to join and participate in its various committees, including communications, intern, issues, mentoring, elections/membership, and programs. The group’s history reflects the inclusivity for which it advocates. EW@S began in 2007 as a support network for women in senior leadership positions at the Department, which sparked the establishment of similar groups for both mid and entry-level employees. Eventually, the three groups unified under the banner of Executive Women@State in 2018, with the understanding that including “Executive” in its name is aspirational, rather than as a reference to its members’ position or rank. EW@S aims to meet each member where they are, and support them at every step of their career, wherever it may lead.
For 2022, EW@S identified and has been working on several priority issues. Advocating for policies that will promote the advancement, improve retention, and support recruitment of career women are among the group’s top goals. Additionally, EW@S’s programming aims to strive to encompass the interests and needs of Department employees across all levels and career paths. In 2022, they will launch a Networking Pathways webinar series that introduces Department positions that are under-represented by women and minorities; an Accountability Partnership where paired colleagues help each other to outline and set milestones to achieve their professional and/or personal goals; and a speaker series that addresses issues such as executive presence, working in male-dominated fields, and mitigating unconscious bias, to name a few.
In line with their goals, EW@S co-hosted a webinar with the Foreign Service Institute’s Leadership and Management School during Women’s History Month in March, which discussed training and resources that Foreign Service members, Civil Service employees, and contractors can leverage to develop their leadership potential. Additionally, the EW@S communications committee publishes a monthly newsletter that shares information regarding Department resources (e.g. TalentCare, mentoring, and the Leadership Development Continuum), and includes profiles of women who are leading the Department in both traditional and non-traditional ways.
Like any organization, EW@S relies on allies to help advance its goals. For this reason, EW@S actively collaborates with other Department employee organizations, bureaus, offices, and posts in producing webinars, book clubs, and roundtable events.
During Women’s History Month, EW@S held two roundtables—with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, respectively—to discuss areas where the Department is making strides to achieve gender parity, and inversely, where there is still much to do. To this end, EW@S recognizes that its mission is shared by other women-focused organizations across the government and civil society. As such, it collaborates closely with its USAID counterpart, Women@AID, and organizations such as Women’s Intelligence Network.
“I witnessed firsthand how [EW@S’s] mission focuses on the wellbeing of its members, and the Department as a whole,” said Radhika Seshadri, a Virtual Student Federal Service intern who has been working with EW@S’s board and committees since September 2021. “Quite objectively, I am the least senior individual to participate in EW@S, and yet, have been encouraged at every meeting to raise my voice.”
As the McKinsey report demonstrated, the full inclusion of women at every level in the Department will require a deliberate and sustained effort to meet their needs and remove the barriers that limit their growth within their careers. Continued advocacy—from women, as well as male allies—is required to ensure that women in the Department continue to gain seats at the table and have their voices heard.
In the March edition of its newsletter, following Albright’s passing , EW@S President Alison Dilworth noted, “[W]e lost a giant—a true trailblazer who paved the way for all of us.” EW@S is proud to be recognizing and advancing the achievement of all women who are doing the hard work of diplomacy and national security.
All Civil and Foreign Service employees and contractors can become members of EW@S. To join EW@S on the Microsoft Teams app click here (internal link).
Cait Dallaire is a Virtual Student Federal Service intern with Executive Women @ State.