Saturday, July 11, 2020

Q&A with Susan Sloan

Susan Sloan is the author of the new book A Seat at the Table: Women, Diplomacy, and Lessons for the World. She works for a global nonprofit advocacy organization, and she is based in Washington, D.C.

Q: You write, "This book was inspired by my frequent interactions with American and foreign diplomats in my position at a nonprofit advocacy organization." What about those interactions inspired you to write the book?

A: Hearing from international diplomats and leaders, I realized that many people around the world do not know the stories of women working in diplomacy or the systemic changes foreign ministries have taken for gender equality and parity. In the prologue, I describe a specific gala event that was the impetus of the book. You'll have to read it!

Q: What kind of research did you do to write the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: In addition to interviewing more than 30 ambassadors, foreign ministers, and government officials, I read numerous materials about diplomacy, gender, and inequalities. There are more than 90 citations in the book from studies, publications, and organizations showing analysis and data about these issues.

Some of the research is from the United Nations, Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations, Pew Research Center, and many others. 

Something that surprised me from the research is that data proves having women at the table is better for countries and organizations.

For instance, the participation of civil society groups, including women's organizations, makes a peace agreement 64 percent less likely to fail.

Looking at companies, those with the highest percentage of women in management are 47 percent more profitable than those with the lowest.

Yet, Pew Research Center reported that women made up only 36 percent of American ambassadors and 19 percent of U.K. ambassadors in 2016. To be successful and profitable, having women at the table is imperative. 

Q: The book's subtitle is "Women, Diplomacy, and Lessons for the World." What are some of the lessons you hope readers take away?

A: I hope the readers take away many lessons including looking around the table for diversity of gender, race, socioeconomic status, and religion.

In addition, chapters 15 and 16 provide concrete steps organizations can take to improve gender equality and parity in the workplace. My hope is that readers use these stories and research as their personal mentorship guide. If one person reads this book and makes positive changes in their organization regarding diversity of gender, the book will have been worth writing.

Q: How do you see the role of women diplomats changing in recent decades, and what do you see looking ahead?

A: The role of women diplomats has changed drastically in recent decades. Read Part 1 of the book where I explain the history and challenges of women rising in the ranks of leadership from language training to the infamous marriage rule.

Looking ahead, countries and organizations who have qualified women in management and leading in diplomacy will have lasting resolutions and results. We can see the benefits of having women at the table especially in Nordic countries, a few African nations, and Australia. The goal is for more countries to institute policies, targets, and system updates. The book has more details!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Right now, I'm working on the virtual book tour as the pandemic has stopped in-person events. I'm on podcasts, writing guest article pieces, and interviewing on Zoom webinars. Check out my website to see the updates:

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: We all engage in a level of diplomacy in some shape or form.

As the former Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik mentioned to me, "Neither the private nor the public sector can afford to disregard 50 percent of its talent, energy, and experience." Gender equality, parity, and equity benefits all people no matter their gender. If we work together, we can see the positive results.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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