To commemorate the International Women’s Day, we are featuring women who have made notable contributions in their respective industries. We aim to explore the tenacity of each and discover how they pushed boundaries to rise to the top.
What does the 2022 International Women’s Day slogan, #BreaktheBias mean for you in your work life?
I think it is important to constantly know and show your value, especially when such contributions often go underrepresented or underappreciated. In the United States, women have fought hard to achieve success in every field – in politics, business, art, science, and more – even as they continue to shatter glass ceilings. Significantly, 2022 will mark the 100th anniversary of women in diplomacy in the United States. We have come a long way from the days when women had to quit the Foreign Service if they got married and when men were rated in part on their wives’ social skills as a hostess. Thanks to women like Foreign Service Officer Alison Palmer, who initiated what became a Class Action lawsuit demanding equal hiring, assignments and promotions for women in the U.S. Foreign Service, female diplomats are on an equal playing field with their male counterparts. So, I think the slogan is a reminder to never stop fighting for your place at the table, and to make your voice heard loudly and clearly.
What is the main challenge that you’ve faced as a woman in your industry?
I think I’ve faced the same challenges most working women have encountered in their professional lives; some of them are self-imposed. When I joined the work force several decades ago, women often treated each other like competitors instead of compatriots. It is vital that women see each other as allies and celebrate the victories of other women as if those victories were their own. In addition, women often second-guess their own qualifications for a job and may accept positions and salaries that don’t take full advantage of their skills and talents. It took time for me to gain the confidence to assert myself and ensure that my voice was heard, and that my contributions were recognized. I am grateful to all of the male and female supervisors who supported me throughout my career and helped me to gain that confidence. Another challenge which faces every woman is trying to balance our jobs and our families and not feel as if we are always failing in one aspect or the other. That is something I have not fully mastered; if I ever meet a woman who has achieved perfect work-life balance, I will ask for her secret. A key factor to overcoming this stressor is the availability of good childcare, and I challenge every government to do more to facilitate adequate accessible and affordable childcare.
What has been the most empowering moment in your career?
It would be difficult to choose just one. I’ve had fantastic opportunities to lead teams, shape policy, meet fascinating people around the world, and to develop personally and professionally. All of my experiences, my successes and my failures, taught me valuable lessons that helped me in subsequent positions later. My most recent meaningful project was the evacuation of over 7,000 Americans and at-risk Afghans from Kabul, thanks to the Bahraini government’s generous offer to provide a secure transit point. There is no better feeling than knowing you have helped someone escape danger and find safe-haven.
Which powerful woman do you admire the most and why?
2022 will mark the 100th anniversary of women in diplomacy in the United States. I am honored to follow in the footsteps of great women like Ruth Bryan Owen, the first female American chief of mission; and Helen Eugenie Moore Anderson, the first American Ambassador. As a career diplomat today, I pay attention to the ways women in diplomacy and other fields lead, negotiate, influence, and mentor all their colleagues, men, and women alike.
Do you have any advice for women wanting to start their own business or work their way up the ladder?
I think everyone grows by following the success of those who came before them. Here in Bahrain, and around the Gulf, in my field of diplomacy you have many examples of successful women who paved the way for future generations of young women. For example, Bahrain appointed its first female Ambassador over 20 years ago, and recently had its first female undersecretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Kuwait led the way with a female Ambassador in 1993; and Saudi Arabia witnessed its first female Ambassador in 2019. I would advise women and girls to find role models that can offer them the path they may choose to follow until they are ready to forge their own way forward. It is also helpful to have mentors, male or female, who can provide advice on personal and professional choices and serve as a sounding board before making significant decisions.
What main change would you like to see for young girls in the next generation?
I want the next generation of girls to be fearless, to be powerful but empathetic forces for positive change. I believe children benefit by seeing themselves in adults succeeding in various ways and I feel a responsibility to model the attributes I aspire for them to share. I have been so blessed to have a daughter who has supported my career choices, no matter the impact on her personally. She embraced the global experiences she had as the daughter of a diplomat and has capitalized on them to write articles for her university paper on international issues including the conflict in Afghanistan and, as a student, has taught a class on Middle East Peace. Desiring to continue her international experience, she is currently doing a Semester Abroad in Scotland. I am proud that she has taken what she’s seen from my work and applied that to herself to gain the confidence she needs to achieve her personal goals. If young girls are supported and encouraged to be committed and work hard, they can achieve their dreams and contribute to making the world a better place.