The "old boys' network" is pervasive and insidious – but it is still very real, even if it has diminished in power, thanks to the rise of women in senior positions and the momentum of those championing women in the workplace. At this week's Diplocon conference in Abu Dhabi, a two-day event aimed at raising the standards of international diplomacy, organisers from the Emirates Diplomatic Academy revealed that less than one-fifth of ambassadorial posts in G20 countries are held by women. Of the 435 female diplomats in those nations, only Australia, Canada and the US had women in at least one-third of diplomatic postings.
In the UAE, there are currently seven female ambassadors, including Lana Nusseibeh, the president of UN Women and the UAE's permanent representative to the UN, as well as nine female ministers, equivalent to nearly one-third of the Cabinet. The UAE Gender Balance Council was set up by the government in 2015 to ensure Emirati women played a leading role in the nation's development. There is, of course, more to be done. While the UAE fares well globally for wage equality, education and literacy, there is a problem worldwide with female diplomats progressing beyond a certain stage in their careers. Inflexible working arrangements and a lack of inclusivity have hampered women's chances of reaching the upper echelons. And while many more women are now signing up to the diplomatic corps, they are often not promoted above a junior or middle-ranking level. The old-fashioned view has been that women were not deemed to be suitable for unsafe postings and there was the added perception that male ambassadors often came with spouses, who could volunteer their services for free.
That has changed somewhat since female ambassadors first appeared in the early 20th century – but conservative, regressive views still persist in too many circles. There is no reason why they should. In Ethiopia, progressive prime minister Abiy Ahmed has appointed women to half his cabinet's posts. In Australia, the department of foreign affairs and trade has launched a women in leadership programme, which aims for greater equality and a more inclusive work culture. The UAE's new Women in Diplomacy Network will be a global platform offering support in a male-dominated field. These are small steps but they will effect huge change and benefit all of society – men and women alike.