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Female Power: Current Alumnae Ambassadors, Diplomats Reflect on Leadership Roles

March 6, 2019 –  Current and former diplomats, including 12 Georgetown alumnae, shared perspectives on women’s roles in shaping communities around the globe ahead of International Women’s Day, March 8.

Headshot of former Ambassador Michele Thoren Bond

"By the end of my career, five of the six geographic bureaus were headed by women.” – Former Ambassador Michele Thoren Bond (G’77)

One of those alumnae, Stephanie Syptak-Ramnath (SFS’92), chargé d’affaires to the U.S. Embassy in Singapore, reflected on the importance of having women involved in U.S. diplomacy during a recent Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) gathering of more than 60 women in diplomatic leadership.

“The opportunity to talk to some of these incredible women and hear their stories was so special,” said Meredith Forsyth (SFS’19), an international politics and African studies major. “There was an energy in the room of sisterhood and solidarity that was electrifying and inspiring.”

‘Much to Contribute’

Melanne Verveer, executive director of GIWPS at the School of Foreign Service (SFS) and former U.S. ambassador for global women’s issues, said gender diversity in the foreign service is key.

“Research shows that diversity is an advantage and gender diversity is an important part of that,”  Verveer said. “For a long time, women didn't really have a place in the foreign service or diplomatic life. Today, there are more and more women involved, and that increase mirrors the populations of the countries in which they serve.”

Sisterhood Energy

“One of the great legacies of the School of Foreign Service is the network of alumnae who are diplomats,” said SFS Dean Joel Hellman.

Many of the ambassadors and diplomatic leaders reflected on their foreign service experience and the women who paved the way for them.

Syptak-Ramnath, for example, said mentorship and support go a long way in increasing gender diversity within the diplomatic corps.

Headshot of Ambassador Kelly Keiderling

“I think women tend to have those skills of bridging instead of dividing strongly and stratifying societies. … The work of Deborah Tannen of Georgetown University shows us from the world of linguistics that women use communication to build bridges and community.” ­

Ambassador Kelly Keiderling (SFS’88)

“When we help and mentor others … it helps us to become stronger and better leaders, but it also increases our network of people who can help us do a great job and help represent the United States effectively,” she said.

Other alumnae at the gathering, included:

  • Michele Thoren Bond (G’77), former U.S. ambassador to Lesotho
  • Natalie Brown (SFS’89), chief of Mission to U.S. Embassy in Eritrea
  • Piper Campbell (SFS’88), chargé d’affaires to U.S. Mission to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and former U.S. ambassador to Mongolia
  • Tatiana C. Gfoeller-Volkoff (SFS’83, G’83), former U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan
  • Kelly Keiderling (SFS’88), U.S. ambassador to Uruguay
  • Lisa Kubiske (G’79), former U.S. ambassador to Honduras
  • Deborah McCarthy (G’79), former U.S. ambassador to Lithuania
  • Virginia Palmer (SFS’83), U.S. ambassador to Malawi
  • Alaina Teplitz (SFS’91), U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives
  • Uzra Zeya (SFS’89), former charge d’affaires and deputy chief of mission in France

Faculty Reflections

Headshot of Ambassador Alaina Teplitz

"I was fortunate enough to have a couple of ambassadors and former ambassadors as professors, [and that] opened a whole new universe to me of opportunity. So, my time the School of Foreign Service was really formative, and I am glad I can lean on it in some respects as ambassador."

– Ambassador Alaina Teplitz (SFS’91)

Steven Radelet, the Donald F. McHenry Chair in Global Human Development at Georgetown, called on female and male leaders alike to focus on challenges faced by women around the world.

“Women are uniquely impacted by poverty because they have the fewest opportunities of anyone in the world,” he said. “Wherever they are, they are systematically left out of opportunities to go to school, systematically left out of opportunities to get jobs, systematically excluded from healthcare, from everything.”

Radelet, also director of the global human development program in SFS, explored the importance of women’s global work during a faculty panel discussion sponsored by GIWPS that included:

  • Barbara Bodine, former U.S. ambassador to Yemen and director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown
  • Lise Howard, associate professor of government and founding director of Georgetown’s Master of Arts in Conflict Resolution Program
  • Kyleanne Hunter (SFS’01), adjunct professor of security studies and U.S. Marine Corps veteran
  • Carla Koppell, Distinguished Fellow at GIWPS and former vice president at U.S. Institute for Peace.