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Embassy Barometer – Embassy 38

WDS – charting a decade of progress

In 2002, the High Commissioner for Grenada Ruth Elizabeth Rouse embarked on a Masters Thesis on the challenges facing women in diplomacy. In her research she interviewed eight of the 15 female heads of mission in London and found many of her colleagues shared similar experiences.

“We all were expected to run the mission as well as the home without any support, while looking our best and juggling multiple responsibilities. Our male colleagues were lucky enough to have wives and some home help to assist them in their duties,” recalls the High Commissioner.

Her colleagues also pointed out that for most of their foreign ministries, gender-friendly policies were not a priority. So, as the song goes, the sisters decided to do it for themselves and created the WDS, a professional association for women diplomats.

The idea behind it is simple: by supporting each other, women diplomats can promote their countries more effectively.

The growing cadre of senior women diplomats in London makes it great for networking too, especially for newcomers who need help navigating the complex London diplomatic scene.

And acting as a group has given the WDS leverage to open doors: members have had meetings with top British women in public life, from Downing Street advisers to the Speakers of both Houses.

WDS members are also conscious that they are role models for the upcoming generation of female diplomats. With this in mind, a scholarship fund was set up to bring talented young women diplomats to the UK on an attachment programme, where they could shadow a head of mission and get an insider’s perspective on top-level diplomacy.

To raise funds for the programme, women ambassadors have taken to the catwalk in fashion shows, they’ve performed on stage in gala concerts and they have done charity walks in London.

But the effort has paid off as many of the WDS scholars are now forging ahead with their careers. 

As the Embassy survey shows, there has been progress since High Commissioner Rouse wrote her thesis ten years ago, but there is a way to go yet which is why the WDS remains useful. “I was thrilled to return to London and to find that the group was still going,” smiles the High Commissioner.

And the WDS is constantly adapting to ensure that this valuable network is around for the next 10 years.

For information, visit www.wds-uk.org.uk

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