Gender Parity in Diplomacy: Solutions from Around the World, with Susan Sloan

May 13, 2021

Detail from book cover.

ANTHONY COVINGTON: Hello, everyone. My name is Anthony Covington, and I would like to thank you all for joining today a part of Carnegie Council's program "Gender Parity in Diplomacy: Solutions from Around the World."

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs serves as the leading conveyor of ethical decisions and discussions for generations of solutions to global problems. For over a hundred years the Council has acted as an independent nonprofit trusted to set the ethical agenda.

This specific event is hosted by the Carnegie New Leaders program, also known as CNL. I am a proud member of CNL, and I cannot talk enough about it. If you are not a part of CNL or you would like to get more information, please visit Carnegie Council's website for more information.

Again, as I said, my name is Anthony Covington. I will be your moderator today. Just a little information about myself: I am a proud New Jerseyan, born and raised. I moved to Washington, DC, in 2015 after I graduated from Rutgers University with a political science and business degree. I have been part of the Carnegie New Leaders council for roughly a year and a half, and this is one of the first opportunities I have had to moderate for the Carnegie New Leaders program.

Thank you all for joining us today. You guys are in for a treat. I can tell you that we have put a lot of time and preparation into this event, and I am sure you guys are going to love it.

I would love to introduce our special guest today, Susan Sloan. Susan Sloan is author of the book we are going to be discussing today, A Seat at the Table: Women, Diplomacy, and Lessons from Around the World. She works for a global advocacy organization in Washington, DC, engaging with diplomats, government officials, community organizers, and international leaders. She has met with representatives from more than 80 countries through diplomacy, advocacy, and experimental education. At the age of 30, she has completed a lifelong goal of visiting all seven continents.

I am trying to get through one, so I am very impressed how you have traveled to all seven. That is a substantial feat. So, congratulations to you.

Susan holds a Master's degree in global strategic communications from Georgetown University and graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor's degree in journalism with a major in public relations and a minor in Spanish from the University of Georgia.

When she is not writing, you can find her cooking something delicious and tending to her garden. When she is traveling—not in the pandemic; I want to call that out because she is safe—you can also connect with her at her website susansloan.com.

For today's conversation, please feel free to engage with us online @carnegiecouncil or @realsusansloan. For our conversation please submit your questions via the Chat feature, where you can post questions to Susan and me, and I can review those through the chat and actually ask those live to Susan. This will not be a stagnant conversation with Susan. We are going to be very live and engaged.

As I said before, I am very, very happy to have all of you guys attend this event. You are in for a real treat. Thank you again.

Susan, welcome.

SUSAN SLOAN: Anthony, thank you for having me, and thank you to Carnegie Council and the whole team that is putting on this event. It is a pleasure to be with you in the Carnegie New Leaders program. I am excited to share my book and insight and wisdom today. It is a pleasure to be with you all.

ANTHONY COVINGTON: Perfect. With that, let's begin the conversation. Are you ready, Susan?

SUSAN SLOAN: I'm ready.

ANTHONY COVINGTON: You have interviewed more than 30 ambassadors, foreign ministers, and government officials. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea for the book, and what did you discover on this magnificent journey?

SUSAN SLOAN: Thank you, Anthony.

This book was really a labor of love and passion. I went on a journey where in eight months I interviewed more than 30 women ambassadors, foreign ministers, and government officials, like Anthony just told you, and they shared with me their stories about diplomacy, what research has been done about gender parity, equity, and equality, and also the insights that they have never shared publicly, so it was an honor to interview all of these leaders.

These interviews span the globe. It was an interesting way to see how varying styles of leadership come up with better solutions. I interviewed women from Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Iceland, Kosovo, Kurdistan, North Macedonia, Mexico, Namibia, Singapore, Sweden, and, of course, the United States.

Right now all of you know that social change is happening. We are in the middle of a pandemic. That is why we are Zoom-ing right now and are not in person. We are also in the middle of a racial injustice pandemic and an economic pandemic. With all of these things together, who is sitting at the table matters, and the reason I wrote this book is that I wanted to share these stories so we can decide how we want to change society, whether it be the organizations we work with, the boards that we sit on, nonprofits that we support, and even the government. So all of these stories and the research and data can help you do that. I hope you get a chance to read the book so these stories can help you too.

Something to note: Many of you may know the Fortune 500 list. I am going to tell you a little bit more about this list and why it shaped my journey with this book. In 2019 the Fortune 500 list had about 33 women CEOs. That is about 6.6 percent. And only one CEO of that list was a woman of color, one. In 2020 the Fortune 500 list had 37 CEOs with three women of color. Right now I can tell you that there is only one woman of color as a Fortune 500 CEO in 2021.

Why is it important to have women at the table and in leadership? Many of you will know that having gender diversity at the table creates better solutions. Even the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has research and said that the collective intelligence of a group arises when there are women involved in that group. In fact, the more women the better. Foreign policy research also shows that companies with the highest percentage of women in management are 47 percent more profitable, so there is also this bottom line, and the research in the book shows that, and that is what people are calling to. 

We all know that parity, equity, and equality positively benefit everyone. While we are facing pandemics and many countries are looking at migration, terrorism, climate change, and the spread of fast-paced technology—even us on Zoom right now—who is around the table matters.

However, with all the research and data, a business case cannot solve gender diversity, and that's why I wrote this book. It's personal. We need these personal stories to understand why it's important and what we can do to really change the system.

ANTHONY COVINGTON: Susan, thank you. I really appreciate that answer.

We have the first question from the audience. Derek asks: "From your research, what are the biggest obstacles to seeing more women in diplomacy?"

SUSAN SLOAN: Derek, thank you for tuning in, and thank you for your question. Some of the biggest obstacles to seeing more women in diplomacy are multifold, and I will give you a few examples. 

One, women typically need mentors and sponsors to help them get a seat at the table, and it is not just women. When we look at diversity in general, mentorship and sponsorship are two different things. 

A mentor is somebody to guide you, to help you professionally, to hear you out, and to give you advice. However, they may not actually get you a seat. 

A sponsor is somebody who says: "I'm going to stick my neck out for you. I'm going to not only mentor you, but I am going to bring you to the table." And they are going to reach out to other people and say: "Hey, this person needs a seat at the table. They are a great leader, and here's how we need to do it. Let's give them this role." So mentorship and sponsorship are two things that women and other folks of diverse origins need.

Other obstacles include adequate parental leave and adequate family leave when families decide to have children. Right now, unless technology changes us, women are having the babies, unless there is something that I don't know. If women decide to have children, they are going to be out of the office for a little while, so even in diplomacy how do we get flexibility? That's a huge obstacle, family leave. Then, once you have a child, who is taking care of the child, childcare? Those two things are the biggest obstacles.

If you look at countries that have adequate family leave and child care—and I am not talking about six weeks paid or unpaid leave, or you are on disability; I'm talking about six months to nine months to a year—countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland, Nordic and Scandinavian countries, have been doing this and they have more women at the table, not only in government and diplomacy but in the for-profit sector.

These obstacles are real. We have been dealing with them ever since people have been having children and been in the workforce. This is not something new, and if we address these issues, we will see more women in diplomacy.

Another thing is that when we look at family leave and child care, this is a nonpartisan issue. In addition, it is a non-gender issue. Both men and women, or however you choose to identify, need to have adequate family leave. Even if you decide not to have children, you probably have an aging parent. You may have a sister, brother, or cousin who needs your help. There are going to be times that you need to take care of your family or have personal leave. With this family leave, and given adequate family leave, it takes away the gender bias.

Anthony and Derek, I will give you an example. Let's say you decide to have a partner, and that partner decides to have children, whether you decide to physically have them or adopt them. You have this baby, and guess what? Because you are a man, you only get off two weeks from work. However, what if you get the same amount of leave as your partner gets, you get to six months to nine months to a year: (1) you are able to bond with that new child; and (2) your workforce, your business, your office, your boss, and your leadership knows you are going to be taking off that time. So, if someone is up for promotion, whether it's Anthony or Susan, it's equal, because we will both be out the same amount of time. That's crucial.

Right now companies are looking at this. Hopefully the government will be looking at it, but other countries are doing it. America is not doing it yet, but other countries are doing it. Six weeks is not enough, twelve weeks is not enough, and if both genders are taking off this time, it will take off the bias.

I will tell you, the ambassador of Sweden told me that when men don't take the time off in her country it is frowned upon. She said: "Oh, my gosh, if someone doesn't take off, they're shunned, and their boss goes: 'Why aren't you taking off? This is ridiculous. This is unheard of.'" So imagine that cultural change.

These obstacles, Derek, are real, and they are just a few. There are many more obstacles I talk about in the book, but for right now those are the ones I'm going to tell you about.

ANTHONY COVINGTON: Susan, you are kicking us off right into the swing of things. I'm loving it. I think your point about paid leave is so critical. For my company, Deloitte, we give 16 weeks of paid family leave for men and women, but I can tell you that is just a recent event that has happened, and it is not the norm across corporate America and in the government as you highlighted. I think we need more conversations like this to highlight those things because child care is not a women's issue or a woman's responsibility. It is a family responsibility that needs to have co-ownership from both parents, whether working or not, and I am so happy that you highlighted that because it is not discussed enough.

Along the lines of talking about obstacles, in your book, I believe Chapter Two, you interview the first female assistant secretary in the Department of Defense, Ms. Long. It shocked me that at her time at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) there was no formal mentorship program.

You can speculate, please, but if there was such a program that was established earlier within the government or some of these agencies that are considered the "good ole boys club," would there be more women in leadership, and do you think there would be a clearer advancement to leadership opportunities for women at these unique agencies?

SUSAN SLOAN: Anthony, I do not have a crystal ball, so I'm not a future teller. However, I will say that looking at that story of the Honorable Mary Beth Long, she was the first woman to serve as the assistant secretary of defense, as Anthony said, and if you are not familiar, that is equivalent to a four-star general from a civilian rank. It is very high up in the Pentagon. Her story is unique, but it is also very similar to many other women who have served in government roles. I will tell you a little bit about her story, and then I am going to answer Anthony's question.

Mary Beth Long started her career in the CIA. Of course, there was no formal mentorship program. Her cover was being at the State Department. She was posted in Latin America, and informally one of her colleagues became her mentor, not through a formal process but informally over time. He happened to be a man from a very machismo culture, very machismo in general, she told me, however she heard his advice and has kept it her whole life.

The two things that she mentioned—and I share a little bit more in the book about this—is that he told her: "Mary Beth, when you enter a room, music plays." And it's a different kind of music. For instance, he told her that when Arnold Schwarzenegger enters the room, there is a certain kind of music, and when Danny DeVito enters the room there is definitely different music, "and your music is just as different. Never try to be a man's music. Embrace your music. Use it, and create your own score."

So she started doing that. When she would go to these receptions to try to make a contact, she went in and used her own flair and used herself as a woman, didn't try to be a man, and she would get more contacts than her colleagues, and more people would say, "Oh, I'll meet you for coffee, I'll meet you for lunch," and she would get contacts for her work in the CIA. She did that by "playing her music."

Another thing he told her is to not work for necessarily a superstar because a superstar may not bring you up with them, and don't go for a job just because of the money, the title, or the prestige. Go to a job to work for somebody you respect and who you can learn from and who will mentor you because that is more important than anything else. She kept to that, and grew her career immensely.

However, had she had other women and other mentors in the organization, her career probably would have gone a little bit differently. It probably would have sped up. I also think that she wouldn't have faced as much discrimination in her confirmation process. I definitely recommend reading that chapter about her because the confirmation process was crazy, and it was the first time she shared that story publicly, so you definitely want to read Chapter Two.

What I find is that formal mentor programs, making a formality of it, creating a system, allows the organization to proactively think how they can professionally develop their staff, their employees, and different people at different agencies. So, whoever is on this call, think about what your own organization does to have a mentor program. Maybe there is an onboarding process where you work where human resources assigns you a person and they connect with you for a few months. However, who are your formal mentors at work, not that you have sought out and are informal, but rather that there is a formal program?

Many organizations don't necessarily have that, and it is something that leadership can do, especially for woman. Mary Beth Long even said that because there wasn't a formal program, because she had to seek out her own mentors and there were not many women in these fields to even look up to, if you were a woman in these fields, whether it be in diplomacy or another government organization, she said that there was this idea of "sharp elbows," and you had to elbow other people out to get your seat at the table.

Now there is a generational change. People are not having sharp elbows. People are grabbing other people by the hand and bringing them to the table to make a larger table. A formal mentor program would definitely help do that, so organizations that can do that—great thing.

I will mention, though, that under Secretary Albright they created a system within the CIA to change how they look at gender in the Agency, and it kept on growing, so there are initiatives that have happened in the CIA to get more women to the table and to be a part of progress and work for the country. It's slow, but it is happening.

ANTHONY COVINGTON: Susan, I know you said you don't have a crystal ball, but that was a great answer and very informative. I learn just by listening to you.

We have another question from the audience, our own Samantha Jordan. She asks: "You noted that when women are involved in the peace process, an agreement is 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years. In what ways do women behave differently in the diplomatic process that causes this positive outcome? In other words, what can men learn from women as it relates to diplomacy?"

SUSAN SLOAN: Sam, thank you for the question, and also thank you for helping to organize this event.

There are a few answers to this question, and I will break it down. As you mentioned, having women at the table makes a peace agreement 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years is an important statistic.

Women do behave differently in the diplomatic process. I found that through my interviews and research that women have this collective way of thinking. When they bring different people to the table, it is a collective way of working. I heard this from the ambassador of Finland, who mentioned that the majority of women she has worked with have had this idea of team, and what "team" means to different countries and different women who work in different countries is bringing people to the table, sharing different opinions, and as the leader, stepping back and listening.

From other countries I heard that sometimes in diplomacy when certain men are in leadership—and this does not mean all men, of course—whether they are an ambassador of an embassy or the head of a section, typically but not always they place people in competition, they place the departments in competition with one another to come up with good solutions. Competition doesn't necessarily work, and people who work in more of a collective and a team are able to generate better solutions. Women foster that.

I will also mention that when I sat down with the first woman ambassador from Hungary, Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi, she told me that when she was working on a cybersecurity issue she realized that all these folks had differing opinions and they kept going back over email and nothing was being decided. Then she said: "Okay, I wonder if these people have even met."

So she brought everyone together physically, sat them around the table, and it was the first time they actually looked eye to eye. This is probably before Zoom. It was the first time they actually saw each other, and they were able to hash out this whole cybersecurity policy for their country, and after it was presented to the European Union they got a congratulations, and the European Union said: "Wow, Hungary presented the best cybersecurity policy." It is this idea of "How do we even come to the table and look at one another?" and women tend to do that.

I will also say that normally women may behave differently diplomatically. What is a positive outcome by having more women at the table, and what can men learn from women as it relates to diplomacy? I will use this story from the Deputy Chief of Mission Lara Romano from Croatia. She is a diplomat. She is based in Washington, DC, right now. She is amazing. She is also a good friend, and her story is fascinating, so I highly recommend reading the book to learn more about her story, but I will tell you a little snippet.

When she was helping with the elections in Afghanistan a few years ago along with the United Nations—she was the first woman diplomat representing Croatia to do this—she found that she was working with military from different governments and different countries, diplomats, civil society leaders, civic organizations, and government organizations all together. Because she was not military and because she was not media, she was able to go into communities and small villages and talk with women to find out the safety on the ground and what issues they really had happening in Afghanistan, and she was able to use that knowledge and report back to the military to give them more insight.

She was only able to do this because she was a woman. If she was a man, let's say Lara Romano was really Lawrence Romano, he would not have had access to these women because they culturally would not have invited a man into their home, into their kitchen, or into the sacred spaces of the family. So being a woman was an asset. We need to use men and women in these ways because women can connect with other women.

Also, when I met with the ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States, Ambassador Roya Rahmani, she said: "Look, if women are not at the negotiating table, they are not going to bring up issues that affect women and children. Those issues will not come up." That's why it's crucial that we have women at the table. When we look at even the ethics of creating problem solving for huge issues, whether it be war, elections, migration, or whatever it is, women are half the population, girls are half the population, so women and girls are being affected. If you don't have those voices bringing things up at the negotiation table, there are not going to be policies that help women and children.

It is not saying that men don't think about these things. However, you have to have people from different lenses to bring up what these lived experiences are so we can make good policy and so we can create change.

ANTHONY COVINGTON: It just gets better. As you mentioned a couple of times—and I am going to put a shameless plug in—if you have not had an opportunity to read the book A Seat at the Table, you can get it at a few different places. It is available on Amazon. There is an audiobook available, and they also have it on Kindle, so you have multiple opportunities to access this book and read it in its entirety if you haven't already. I tell you, every chapter is unique, and it brings different perspectives from around the world. I just want to put that shameless plug in there as we continue the conversation.

SUSAN SLOAN: Maybe, Anthony, I should take you on tour with me everywhere.

ANTHONY COVINGTON: It hit me in Chapter 16, titled "The Ultimate Balance," and it is from Ms. Wisborg, where she talks about conducting an evaluation process and it goes to picking different leadership members for posts. For the first five or six, they all happened to be men. She was going along with this unconsciously, going, Yes, well this person seems fit for the role, so let me pick this person. It is only as she had the opportunity to reflect that she realized that the criteria for these roles were created by men and were suited for men, so naturally every time it came up for an evaluation for a man or a woman, the man most likely had it. To me that just initiated a common thread throughout the book, where these women leaders had this "Aha!" moment, or they realized, You know what? Something is wrong here, and I need to take a stand or change.

Wrapping all that in, when did you realize in creating the book that there was this inequity or this imbalance that needed to be called out and needed "to put pen to paper," so to speak, to raise some of these issues and to make more people aware of it?

SUSAN SLOAN: Great question, Anthony. I love Chapter 16. I think it tells what organizations can do.

Throughout the process, when I was interviewing different women, they all shared stories of challenges that they faced being in diplomacy. Sometimes it was maybe being the only woman at the table, maybe it was the only woman of color, maybe it was the only woman from a certain type of country, whether it be in the Middle East or Africa, and what that was like, and sometimes not getting authority when they come to the table, having people shun them, or having people leave the table saying, "I'm not going to listen to her," which happened to many of the women that I interviewed, especially from countries that I would say are culturally more conservative. What these leaders have faced defined how they wanted to lead and also what changes to policy they wanted to create.

What I find fascinating about the Chapter 16 reference is that Ambassador Wisborg from Denmark is an amazing leader, and she was in senior leadership at the foreign ministry. She got to a position where she sat around the table. She was like: "I never really saw any gender issues or inequality. We're a modern European society. I have never felt discriminated against. It was really just different ways of thinking and how you did diplomacy."

But when she said that, that pivotal moment of sitting around and doing the ambassadorial postings around the globe, and these men, as you said, kept getting the positions and it seemed like a good idea—"Oh, well, he knows a lot about Russia, he is a Russian expert, so he should be the ambassador to Russia because he was the head of the Russia Section, and this person is the head of this and this person is the head of that, so they need to be ambassadors to these countries."

What I love is that when she had that epiphany, she realized that even the group didn't know they were doing this, and when she thought, Okay, wow, our whole system was made hundreds of years ago and created by essentially white men, it is still the lens they are thinking of. So she said: "We had to redefine what merit looked like. What if we look at merit as not only if, yes, someone is a Russian expert and they should be ambassador to Russia, but also, are they a good leader, are they a good manager?"

Whether a man or woman, they are the expert to a certain country or region, but the real question is: How do they manage? Because when you are an ambassador, running an embassy is a huge management position. You are ahead of all personnel at that embassy. You are the head of all those contacts. So it has to be not just that you are an expert in a topic or a field, but how do you manage? Leadership in general, whether you are the leader of a nonprofit, whether you are the CEO or president, whether you are on a board, or whether you are a leader in the C suite of your organization, you have the responsibility not only to be maybe a subject expert but also to be a good manager.

She said: "Hey, if we redefine the playing field and look at merit, let's redefine what merit, what criteria, we are judging these people on," and that conversation would not have happened had she not been at the table. 

This is why we need women in leadership to bring up these questions, to bring up the conversation of criteria, the conversation of merit, and also for organizations to look at: "What is the merit to join a board? How many men and women do we have on the board? How many people of color do we have on the board? How many people from different religious backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, or national origin? What does that look like?" And to not have quotas—and I talk more about that in the book; I am sure we will talk about that, Anthony—but looking at why have different people at the table. The whole idea is to have diversity of thought, and that was my big aha moment of the book, that it is more than equality, parity, and equity. It is diversity of thought, and everyone has these own lived experiences, and we can create a more just society and a better society if we use diversity of thought and have diversity of thought at the table.

ANTHONY COVINGTON: Susan, I have a comment for you, and then I want to go back to the audience. There is another question I want to ask you.

For me personally, I serve on the Board of Trustees for Rutgers, and we have this discussion often about not who can, but who should, serve in different roles, and I realize through our conversation now that in order to have diversity of thought, you need active participation and people being very focused on bringing in that diversity. Otherwise, we fall victim to what has been the status quo for centuries almost, and if we are not taking an active role in evaluating who is on a board, what are those criteria, we are going to continue to repeat history unfortunately. So this to me is a reminder that we need to be intentional about our processes on how we evaluate and how we bring on people in such high-powered roles because they ultimately have the power to shift the future.

SUSAN SLOAN: Anthony, on that note, just a comment. Yes, and more. When we bring people to the table, are we creating a space for them to actually speak, and are we creating a space for them to thrive? Because if we bring people to the table and they are the only people like themselves at the table, it's not very comfortable. When we bring people to the table, do we create the mechanisms and systems so they get promotions, so they have professional development opportunities?

It is not only getting to the table but what we do when we are there, and how do we create a workforce, a company culture, and a government culture that supports different people being at the table and also hears them, so as the ambassador of Namibia said, "It's not decorating a list." That's an important thing, (1) getting to the table, (2) two, how do you maintain that seat and bring more people to the table and make people comfortable to be at the table?

ANTHONY COVINGTON: Susan, you must be a mind reader because that perfectly follows up the next question from the audience. Ms. Tallapaka asks: "When speaking with women in such powerful positions did you encounter 'imposter syndrome,' and how did they deal with this? Additionally, how did these leaders balance the dichotomy between gender and power? How did they reconcile not having female mentors and dealing with male bravado, which is so notorious in political and diplomatic spheres?"

SUSAN SLOAN: Great questions. It seems like there are multiple questions here, so I will try to answer all of them, but if I don't, put it back in the chat, and we will see if I can answer more. I want to make sure I get to all these points because they are important.

When I was speaking with these women, who are very powerful leaders, I didn't necessarily feel imposter syndrome. I feel that I am more of a storyteller, and I am a conduit to their story, so I knew that if I didn't go and reach out to these embassies, make these connections, go to receptions, and ask to interview these different folks—and trust me, when I pressed send on different emails my palms were sweaty and my heart was racing, so that was definitely there.

However, I knew that if I didn't ask to sit with these women or be on the phone with them, then their stories wouldn't be told. I thought it was my honor but also an obligation to tell these stories so more people know about them and that this book can serve as a mentorship guide to men and women so we can create these better solutions and create better systems. I had a higher way of looking at it, saying: "I need to do this. I need to be at the table and sit with these women."

However, I will say every time I walked into an embassy or a private ambassador's residence, yes, I was nervous, but once we got into the conversation my goal was to make the leader comfortable so they would actually tell me their story.

Listen, when you sit down with a diplomat, they are going to tell you their agenda first. They are going to tell you the great things about their country, great things about their career, and it's all very nice because it's also promotion for their country. Sitting with them long enough—some of these conversations were just half an hour, some of them were two to three hours; it depends on the diplomat.

In the book there is a reference to what—she is called "the diplomat" as her country wanted to remain anonymous; she comes from a Muslim-majority country near the Middle East and near Africa, and she didn't want her name mentioned or her country so her story could be printed as long as the country name wasn't in there, so you will have to read more and you can mentally guess who it is and which country she comes from.

However, what I found is that it took me an hour into the conversation for her to actually share these intimate stories because she had to get comfortable. So there is also the cultural difference of which women I was speaking with, where they were from, because other countries, like European countries, were very direct and to the point, it was a half-hour, it was quick and it was fast, and we got the information done, and we were out the door.

In other countries it took more time because that is also a cultural difference that we were in. You would sit down, you would have tea. There was a different cultural expectation. As an interviewer it is my duty to meet people where they are and to hear their story and to share it. So I didn't feel imposter syndrome doing this. I more so felt an honor to tell their stories, and now every story I tell I tell the audience: "I am telling you right now. These are now your stories, and you have an obligation to share them because that is the only way we are going to make change and create more seats at the table."

I know there were a few more questions in this multiple-question area. How did leaders balance this dichotomy between gender and power? At some point, when you reach a pinnacle of power—and I heard this from all the leaders I interviewed—you don't have any choice but to lead, and they said, "Hey, if you don't speak, your country doesn't speak," so it takes out the gender lens. Whether you are nervous or not, and you are in a room full of men, if you don't speak, your country doesn't speak.

That resonated with me. What I learned from that is that we can think of ourselves as almost we are our own countries, we are our own islands, and if we don't speak, our country doesn't speak. We are not representing ourselves, our representation, if we don't speak, and we are not represented. You can think about it on multiple levels, but I found that they used that.

Also, I remember the ambassador of Sweden said to me that when she was posted in a certain country, she was one of two women ambassadors at this posting, and they would have these meetings with all the ambassadors and the prime minister of this country, and she said it was like a sea of gray suits and white hair. She and her colleague, who happened to be women ambassadors, stood out. So the prime minister would call on them, and she said: Being a woman and being one of the few women wasn't a bad thing because we stood out."

So it depends also how you see it and how you use it. Maybe being one of the few can help you in some way, but it depends how you use it. You also have to decide how you want to be seen as a leader and make the decision of how you come to the table. That is one of the ways they dealt with this gender dichotomy.

Lastly, how to reconcile not having female mentors, women mentors, and dealing with male bravado that is notorious in these spheres. Look, some of these stories—and if you read the book, you will see—went better than others, and some were rough. Especially if you read Mary Beth Long's story, you will see how rough her confirmation process was because she was a woman. Her confirmation process, what went down, would not have happened had she been a man. So there are certain differences, and hopefully government and society are changing.

However, still in different countries, and even in our own, women get stigmatized more than men for doing maybe the same thing or saying the same thing or even sometimes for what they wear. Some of the women that I interviewed for this book spoke about having to second-guess themselves on what they wore and how much makeup they wore. Here they are, the leaders of these countries, and they have to think about that. I highly doubt a male ambassador is thinking too much about his makeup or what he looks like at the table. He may be thinking about his tie, but generally speaking he is not thinking about all those other things of how he is perceived. So there are all these other things that women have that they are thinking about.

I will say that it is changing, and the more that women and men know about these things they can understand those differences and be a little bit more flexible.

ANTHONY COVINGTON: Again, I am having all these internal thoughts. What you said about women, when they are in these positions if they don't speak, their country won't be heard, reminds me that you had an opportunity to interview these powerful women, but how many other stories of women who weren't successful and didn't make it on the other side and have a success story? To me it is scary but it is also very humbling because it shows me that we have a long way to go. This book and having this conversation should only be the starting point but not the end because there are more stories where women have not been able to overcome some of these challenges to become success stories, and that is unacceptable.

I wanted to bring in a question from Joel Rosenthal. He says: "Thank you, Susan, for tonight and your provoking conversation. Can you share with us an example of two governments or institutions that are exemplary and who are succeeding, and what is the secret to their success? I know you said you don't have a crystal ball, but maybe you can provide some insight into this."

SUSAN SLOAN: If I am correct, this is Joel Rosenthal, who is the president of Carnegie Council, so we are glad you are here, and hopefully some of these secrets of success we can use in Carnegie Council and beyond, in other organizations. Thank you for the question.

An example of two governments or institutions that are exemplary. I can think of many, but the first one I am going to talk about is Australia. I sat down with Ambassador Katrina Cooper, who has the ambassador title. However, she is the deputy head of mission in Washington at the embassy right now. She was an ambassador to Mexico. She was also the senior legal advisor in the foreign ministry, so she got to the C suite of the foreign ministry.

But when she joined the foreign ministry the gender equality in her incoming class of diplomats was about even, and it was not until she finished her posting as ambassador that the ministry offered her the opportunity to become the senior legal advisor. However, she and her partner had just adopted a child from Mexico, and she wanted to take a sabbatical to be with her family for about a year. She knew these opportunities did not come up often, so she told the ministry: "I would love to take this opportunity, but I really need this sabbatical with my family. Can we start this in a year?"

They told her: "Look, you know what? Maybe you will get another opportunity in a few other years. We need somebody now."

She said: "You make it too hard. There is no flexibility. You make this too hard. Can you go back to the current senior legal advisor and ask them: 'Can you wait a year to retire, and then Ambassador Cooper will take the position?'"

So that's what they did. They went back to the current senior legal advisor and asked to wait a year, and they did, and she was able to become the senior legal advisor. However, she said that had she not had these relationships and negotiation tools it would not have been possible. She realized that was the first issue.

So she made it to the table at the foreign ministry, meaning the highest table. We have the secretary of the foreign ministry, all the folks that are leading the foreign ministry, and she gets to the table and says: "Where are the women?"

Then she started looking down at different manager levels and supervisors and she realized there was a huge disparity between gender, and she started asking her colleagues: "Do you see this? Do you notice this?"

The few women who were there said: "Yes, it's an issue. We don't know what to do. There are qualified women, but they are not in these positions, and then more men keep getting promoted. There is nothing really we can do."

She said: "No, we need to do something."

So she reached out to a famous sexual harassment commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, and Elizabeth Broderick told her: "The first thing you need to do is to get the leader onboard. You cannot do this by yourself."

So Ambassador Cooper sat down with Secretary Peter Varghese and asked: "Do you see that there is an issue in gender equity and parity in the foreign ministry?"

He started looking at these lists, and he was like: "Oh, yes, there is. I didn't realize that. Okay, well, how about you work on a project, Ambassador Cooper, and work on these different things, and we will do some change biz. You lead this project."

She pushed back and said: "No, you have to lead it. You are the leader and you have to lead it." That was the first thing, getting the leader onboard.

So she got the leader onboard, and what they decided in the C suite at the foreign ministry was to bring in an outside consultant group to look at these different issues. This group determined key areas that the ministry could change.

The first thing they did was they did not want to have quotas, saying, "Hey, we need to have a quota of a certain amount of women in leadership or a certain amount of women in management," because with quotas you may get people who come through your doors, (1) who maybe aren't qualified, but (2) you put them into a position that they don't want to do, and then you just have women decorating a list.

Instead they created targets because targets are aspirational. The secret sauce of culture change is a certain breakdown, and I will tell you right now, so write it down: It is 40 percent men, 40 percent women, and 20 percent either. That 40/40/20 split of percentage in leadership and management and upper executive leadership creates significant cultural change.

That became the goal of the ministry, and they created a whole area of what to do to get more women in leadership. They said: "Okay, by this year our target is 30 percent for women, by this year we want to do 35 percent, and by this year, it's going to be 40 percent." This was over a span of a few years.

The first year their goal was to get 30 percent. They didn't make it. They didn't get enough women to apply to positions to get to the leadership table, and they didn't hit that 30 percent. However, when it was time to hit 35 percent they did hit it, and when it was time to hit 40 percent they hit it a year in advance. So change and gradual change are possible, and it could happen, and that breakdown to create culture change is super-important.

They also looked at flexibility. Women were seeking more flexibility in the workplace of the hours they worked. For instance, many of the women who worked had families, and so they were not invited to certain meetings because they because they were after hours or if it was endgame diplomacy that can go on very long. If there is not flexibility for women to deal with certain family obligations, then they are not going to be at that negotiation table. So they created a more flexible environment, and they work with managers and management to create that.

Another thing they did—and this is a more physical thing—is that they looked at the foreign ministry building itself, the offices that they worked in. They looked around and saw that all of the conference rooms were named after either men or flowers. That sounds ridiculous, men or flowers. However, in my fair share of Washington conference rooms, especially in hotels, they are named Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Cherry Blossom. There are very few conference rooms named after women.

You may think: Oh, this is kind of silly. Who cares about a name? A name matters. Who are you honoring for that room? So they took away all the flower names and put in names of women who had worked in the foreign ministry of Australia and made significant impacts to Australia, the government, and the people.

In addition to that, they created a plaque with their photo and a bio of why the room was named after them, so when different diplomats walked into different rooms they understood why that person was being honored, the meaning behind it, because if you can't see yourself there, if you can't see that other people are honored in a certain way, you are going to think: Well, where is my seat? Do I really fit in here?

Another thing they did is they looked at all the artwork around the foreign ministry. They realized it was typically pictures of older white men. So what they did is they scoured the basements. Ambassador Cooper really did this. She went down to the basement with her colleagues of the foreign ministry and found historical photos of women in leadership, and they brought them up. There were not enough compared to the men because it was a male-dominated field obviously. When they didn't have certain photos to coincide with these historic photos they would bring a contemporary photo to show the diversity of the foreign ministry in Australia, so they would have a historic photo next to a contemporary photo if they couldn't have that gender parity.

Looking around at the organizations that we have all worked in, if you walk a hallway and look at the pictures of all the CEOs and presidents of that organization, who are the faces that are staring back at you? You can't reclaim history. However, you can know how you want to make history, and if you change who is lining those walls so people can see themselves reflected in them, it creates an opening. It creates a space. So figuring out how to do that matters because people see that.

So that is one country that has made significant improvements and is an exemplary example.

Another country I will say—and I won't go into too much detail because I know we are almost at time—is Namibia. When I sat down with the ambassador of Namibia, she had an amazing story. It was very harrowing: "I was on the frontlines with a gun fighting for Namibia's independence." She had a child in a refugee camp. She traveled the world with the United Nations to gain independence. Her story is amazing.

She told me that when they were creating their country after getting out of South African control and apartheid they put gender equality as a prominent part of how they wanted to create their society and create their government, and what they came up with is a "zebra" policy, having certain percentages, about 50 percent, of women in parliament and to get to that level, they worked on it every single year. The zebra policy is also that they have in different positions a man and a woman, a man and a woman, and it changes each year. That's why it's called the "zebra" policy. But what she said to me is that they wanted to create a society where women and men could both be at the table, both fight for their country, both work in diplomacy for their country. When you create a new society, that is very, very important.

The ambassador of Kosovo said the same thing to me too, that even language—a quick story: When she was in parliament and they were working on the language and creating the new country, the language read, "The president and his wife will have these duties, the president and his wife, blah, blah, blah." She interrupted and said: "This language is sexist. We need to say 'the president and their spouse,' because one day we may have a woman president." And they laughed at her.

She kept pressing the issue. She said, "We need an amendment to this language." It got passed, and she eventually had the last laugh when Kosovo had their first woman president. So language also matters, how we invite people, how we see people, what language we're using, what photos we are using. Is there a breakdown to create that cultural change? 

That's the answer to your question, Joel. Hopefully it was a good one.

ANTHONY COVINGTON: Susan, and the rest of the audience and everyone who is tuned in, thank you. We are just about at time.

Susan, I have one last question for you. It is unfortunate because I have so many more to ask you. I feel like we just got started in this amazing dialogue. The last question for you is: If there is one thing you want readers to take away from reading the book, A Seat at the Table, what would it be? What are the lasting words?

SUSAN SLOAN: To have a seat at the table, whether you are a man or a woman or however you choose to identify, embrace your unique voice. Every single leader I interviewed said that. They embrace their uniqueness and what made them unique, and standing out didn't have to be a bad thing.

We all can do that. How we show ourselves in the workplace, how we bring our authentic selves, how we think about different issues, using our shared and lived experiences, and not being afraid to share them. We may have hard conversations with our colleagues because they may be tough conversations to have. However, our uniqueness is the driving factor that creates success, whether it be in diplomacy, for-profit or nonprofit organizations, in business, and in government. Sharing our unique voice, sharing our unique perspective, being proud of it, and not shying away, "letting our music play," so, embracing the unique voice.

ANTHONY COVINGTON: Susan, I could not have found a better way to end the conversation than on that note. I want to thank you again for being our guest today. You have enlightened us. You have opened up some ideas of thought and challenged some of our thinking, so thank you so, so very much.

To the audience: Thank you all. I know this is a little bit different than we would prefer with COVID-19 and being virtual, but I thank you all for your patience and your amazing questions that were very engaging.

Last but not least I want to thank Carnegie Council for sponsoring this event and allowing us to come together to talk about these unique and important topics. And, as we said before, the conversation doesn't end here. Please connect with Susan on her website susansloan.com, on social media @realsusansloan, or using the hashtag #aseatatthetable, or on carnegiecouncil.org. There is going to be a recording of this event if you want to share it with your friends or other people.

Last but not least, if you haven't purchased the book, A Seat at the Table, it is available on Amazon, in Kindle and audiobooks. You can get it anywhere you like to read or listen.

Again, thank you so much everyone for the opportunity to come together and for allowing me to moderate and interview such a special guest.

Susan, I hope you have a wonderful evening.

Again, I am Anthony Covington, and we hope that you stay tuned and be on the lookout for more Carnegie Council events in the future. Thank you all. Have a good evening.

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