Elizabeth Jones Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

U.S. Foreign Policy: Continuity and Change after 9/11: Conversation with A. Elizabeth Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, October 22, 2002, by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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Women in the Foreign Service

When you entered the Foreign Service, there weren't as many women as there probably are [today]. Talk a little about that change. I'm curious as to what you see women, as diplomats, bring to the table -- strengths that one might not find in the other sex?

I came in at a very opportune time, 1970, which is just when the Foreign Service had done a big review of itself. It finally realized that it was forcing women out, people out, just at the time when they probably would begin to be the most productive. They came in as single officers, they married another Foreign Service officer, probably, and the Foreign Service was asking them to choose which one was going to stay.

This happened to your mother, right?

It probably happened to my mother. I don't know how much it was her choice, to be honest, and how much was the system at the time. But there were many, many women who would have stayed in the Foreign Service, but the systems said, "No, your husband goes to Stockholm, you go to Paraguay." And, you know, that's not the way most people like to conduct their marriages. But they had done a study about the time I came in, and decided that that was wrong, and that they should really have a policy of allowing married couples to be posted together, provided nepotism rules could be managed in an appropriate way. And it worked extremely well. So I was at the beginning of a real effort to recruit women, and have women stay. Now, something like 50 percent of the classes coming in are women, which is terrific. Only a third of the Foreign Service is women at this point, so we're not quite there yet, but we're getting there.

What do you think women bring to the table?

I, frankly, think women are better listeners. I think that's terribly important to our work. I think we listen and are able to interpret what people are saying in a very positive way. There are plenty of my male colleagues who can listen as well, but we're better at it, as a rule. I think we also tend to be more patient. There are a lot of us who work very hard on team-building, on getting people to work together in productive, constructive ways, which we have to do within our own offices, but that is part of the work that we do, as well, in diplomacy.

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