Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.


Who May Enter? Issuing Visas to Jewish Refugees

Nazi policies designed to persecute Jewish populations prompted a wave of emigration from Europe beginning in 1933. Many sought to move to the United States in the days leading up to World War II. If direct migration to the United States was not possible, some went to a third country and applied to get into the U.S. from there.

At that time, the U.S. used a quota-based immigration system in which a specific number of visas would be granted to applicants from each country. The system also included a literacy test that potential immigrants over the age of sixteen had to pass to be considered for a visa. This system was supposedly designed to maintain a homogeneous U.S. population and keep out those seen as “undesirable.”  Some U.S. consular officers bent the rules to help those desperately seeking refuge.

Read more

The Road to Madrid — James Baker and the Middle East Peace Talks

The Madrid Peace Conference, held from October 30 to November 1, 1991, marked the first time that Israeli leaders negotiated face to face with delegations from Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and, most importantly, with the Palestinians. The George H.W. Bush Administration believed there was a window of opportunity to use the political capital generated by the U.S. victory in the Gulf War to revitalize the Arab-Israeli peace process. The idea was to convene a multi-party international conference, co-chaired by a more cooperative USSR which would collapse by year’s end, that would then break into separate bilateral and multilateral negotiating tracks. Secretary of State James Baker was the driving force behind the effort, making eight diplomatic visits to the region to get support for the conference. Read more

The Power of a Talking Point: The Work of Ambassador Thomas Miller in Morocco

All too often in the State Department, people can lose hope that their efforts matter and come to believe that the main reason for their existence is simply to create an endless stream of memos, briefing materials, and government forms, and push them through the bureaucracy. It is too easy to forget that “we are a business of human beings.” In this instance, one person inserted one talking point in a memo and changed the fate of one family. Read more

Operation Winter Warmth – Helping Armenia in Its Darkest Hour

When Armenia gained its independence after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, it was in dire straits. It was in the midst of a bitter war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, its borders with Turkey were closed, which prevented the transshipment of goods. Civil unrest reigned in neighboring Georgia, where bandits would frequently steal from large trucks, greatly reducing the amount of food and oil which finally made it to Armenia.

The populace faced a grim winter with very little heat and not much hope. Into this dark morass came Harry Gilmore, the first Ambassador from the United States to Armenia. Working closely with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the On-Site Inspection Agency, and others, he spearheaded an effort to bring in heating oil and food in the winter of 1994. Read more

Rebel With a Cause — Struggling with the Armenian Genocide

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of what a number of international organizations, countries, and even some U.S. states formally recognize as the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the Ottoman government’s planned extermination of minority Armenians inside present-day Turkey. Historians estimate that the Armenian Genocide resulted in 800,000 to 1.5 million deaths, as well as thousands of cases of rape, robbery, deprivation, and forced deportation. However, despite what many call a preponderance of evidence, the U.S. government has consciously avoided using the term genocide so as to not harm its strategic — and sometimes delicate — relationship with NATO ally Turkey.

At times, this has meant that some top State Department officials have had to walk a fine line between publicly supporting their country’s policy and adhering to their own moral code, none more so than Ambassador to Armenia John Evans. Evans did considerable research on the events in 1915 before and during his ambassadorial appointment in 2004 and came to the conclusion that they could be described as “genocide.” Read more

Cracking the Glass Ceiling: A Conversation with Foreign Service Women

Despite their education and background, women Foreign Service Officers in the 1950s and 60s faced discrimination and were often treated like second-class citizens. Even in the late 1960s, some ambassadors would object to a woman being posted to their embassies while female FSOs were sometimes expected to act as social secretary to the Ambassador’s wife. Female Foreign Service Officers were asked to resign once they got married, even though there was no written regulation that obliged them to do so. It was only with persistent complaints and a few lawsuits that the system finally began to change in the early 1970s.

To commemorate Women’s History Month, ADST, in conjunction with Executive Women at State, convened a panel March 30, 2015 with four Foreign Service pioneers to share their stories about overcoming challenges to rise to the top, as well as their advice on how to keep moving forward.

Phyllis Oakley was the “’wife of’ for sixteen years,” specifically to FSO Robert Oakley from the moment they wed until 1974. When she resigned from the Service in 1958, “it never occurred to me to challenge the Department on its personnel policies.” She was able to apply for re-entrance to the Foreign Service in 1974 and quickly rose through the ranks of the State Department, beginning in the Bureau for International Organizations. She retired in 1999, having served as the Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research (INR).

Elinor Constable joined the Foreign Service in 1957 and met her future husband in A-100, the orientation class for new FSOs; she was then asked to resign when they married. She refused. She later resigned when they had children, then rejoined the Service “kicking and screaming,” in 1974. She reluctantly joined the Alison Palmer case because “for me to argue that the Department was discriminating against me as an individual was ridiculous.” She served not only as Ambassador to Kenya from 1986 to 1989 but also as the first woman Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Economic Bureau and as Assistant Secretary in OES.

Stephanie Kinney passed the Foreign Service exam in 1971 but was unable to join because of a hiring freeze at USIA. When her husband Doug went through A-100, she took the “Wives Seminar.” She was part of the first generation where for the first time any comment or review of their activities could not be cited in their husbands’ Officer Evaluation Reports. She became an FSO in 1976; she is a former Senior Foreign Service Officer and winner of the Department of State’s Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Harriman Award for her leadership role in creating the Department’s Family Liaison Office (FLO). She asserts that when advocating for change, it is important to frame the issue as an institutional one to get more buy-in, rather than advocating from a single interest group perspective.

Eileen Malloy (Moderator) joined the Foreign Service in 1978, after the Palmer case had been decided. However, after the Department found out that her husband would not be coming with her immediately, they broke her initial assignment to Jamaica and reassigned her to London, without asking her. As she notes in her ADST history, “There was still very much this kind of paternalistic attitude towards female officers.” She was posted twice in the USSR, the second time as Chief of the Arms Control Implementation Unit. She served as Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan from 1994-1997, Deputy Assistant Secretary in EUR from 1997-1999, and Consul General in Sydney, Australia from 2001-2004. She is also an ADST Board member. In her remarks, she noted how far the Department has come in tackling such issues and noted that from her perspective the biggest challenge facing the Department with regard to women today is retention.

Asked about what challenges still persist for women today, panelists said that the evaluation process still varied for men and women and noted that it is more important to have a champion at the top, while the gender of that champion is not as crucial. They also advised that it was not necessary for women to act like a man to get ahead, but rather women should be themselves, use their strengths, and do a good job.

You can read the entire

. You can also read more about the lawsuit on sexual discrimination filed by Alison Palmer.


Return to Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History 

Return to The Stump


“In my day it was felt that we were not going to make waves”

Lycia Coble Sibilla: The Executive Women at State recently met with HR. We shared statistics on the advancement of women here at the State Department. We learned that from about 1994 to 2014 there were more women here at State in every senior level and mid-level grade. For example in 1994, 24% of the DCMs [Deputy Chiefs of Mission] were women and today 29% are. In 1994 only 10% of women were Chiefs of Mission and today 35% hold top spots at our missions overseas. I am delighted that we will hear the stories on how we achieved some of that success today, and our panelist’s suggestions on how to keep moving forward….

Phyllis Oakley: Well, as Elizabeth Taylor said to her husbands, I won’t keep you long. You know in 1957 and 1958 I did not fight having to resign when my husband and I decided to marry, and both of us studied French. He was sent from Washington to Nice where the State Department used to keep their French school. That was closed needless to say. From Nice he was sent immediately to Khartoum where they spoke English and Arabic. One does kind of wonder about that. I had to resign. I went home to St. Louis to get ready to fly out to see him.

A nice person in personnel did suggest that they would help me arrange a proxy marriage if I wanted to do that. That was their contribution. I declined. It didn’t seem to me marrying Bob in such exotic circumstances and going to Khartoum for our first two years that I was really giving up much of the adventure of the Foreign Service. Our arrangement was that we would always be a partnership.

In those days in the late 50’s nice girls didn’t make waves. All of this brings me to what I see as the greatest difference for women and in women from that period of the 50’s and 60’s and now, and it is today’s women are confident young women who were extremely well educated, and they are not going to take restrictions or discouragement or guff from anyone. In my day it was kind of felt that we were not going to make waves….

The statement was always said to me over and over ad nauseum:  “We are just getting two for the price of one.” I cannot tell you how much I hate that saying. But since that time the world has changed, and you really have to realize how drastically it has changed. Vietnam and the protests against the war, civil rights, gays and women’s lib. This society has really transformed itself….

None of the progress that women have made in the State Department or other areas of society would have happened without the threat of lawsuits and bringing the lawsuits that were successful. I don’t know of many societies that have changed as much as we have but the law and the willingness of people to bring those lawsuits was what it was all about.

When I re-entered the Foreign Service in 1974 we were coming back from Beirut, and I generally had support among all of the friends of our age. People who had known me and had seen me in various posts and activities that I had done.

What I did find was that occasionally older men would make remarks close to me so that I could overhear them. Things like “What does she think she is?” “Why is she coming back into the Foreign Service?” and what not. You just learn to ignore it and go on. In general I found most of the people with whom I worked to be extremely helpful and helpful to me because I knew about all of the places we lived and the political situation and various things like that.

When I came back into the Foreign Service and somebody said, “What tags do you want on that telegram?” I said, “What are tags?” I had no idea of the mechanics of a lot of this. Now I think a lot of us sitting here have had our share of small firsts. My first was I was called up to be a staff assistant on the seventh floor [where the Secretary and others have their offices]….It was very much along the military model. The staff aides were generals we called up and these were the promising young people. They wanted to get them exposure on the seventh floor and help groom them and push them up.

In the summer of 1976 because we were celebrating a lot [for the Bicentennial], I was asked to go up on the seventh floor as the staff assistant for Phil Habib….He had headed the political section out in Saigon when my husband was there, and he considered Bob one of his boys.

Well, there I was working on a Sunday morning spreading out his traffic….He looked up at me and he smiled and he said, “Why aren’t you home fixing breakfast for your husband?” Now do you think anybody could get away with that today? But you know, what can I say? I just kind of laughed and went on telling him what he had to do….

What helped in those days for me to work where Bob was, was the disparity in our ranks. Because I had been out for 16 years and he had moved up the ladder and I was lower. It was easier to find me a job. It would have been much more difficult of course if my assignment had come first and then he tried to follow.

I was the first woman spokesman at the State Department. I don’t think any of you would ever think about the fact whether a spokesman for any U.S. Government agency was a man or a woman. It is just not an issue anymore. But I had been the Afghan desk officer. In those days I had been on the McNeil-Lehrer news program on the fifth anniversary of the Soviet invasion. [Secretary of State] George Shultz was on vacation in California. He happened to see it and called me up. Six months later when they needed a spokesman he remembered.

This supports our long-held maxim that what happens to you in the Foreign Service depends on three things:  who you know, what you know, and just plain luck. Anyway that was, in a sense, my real breakthrough. A lot of things happened after that. When we got to Islamabad in 1988 and Bob was named Ambassador right after Arnie Raphel was killed, that embassy was the most integrated embassy I have ever seen. The DCM was married to the assistant PAO [Public Affairs Officer]. The budget and fiscal officer was married to the economic officer. And it was just like that throughout and to me it was just a great mark of change.

Is it a perfect system? Do things work perfectly? Of course not. The assignment process has gotten more difficult with security concerns and short tours and the various things like that. It is different but it is still very complicated. So let me just end by saying “You have come a long way, Baby!”

Eileen Malloy: Now we are going to ask Elinor Constable to share her experiences with us.

“They just imposed this discriminatory policy as a kind of a custom”

Elinor Constable: Oh I loved that, and there were some stories in there that I had never heard before. Phyllis and I share a lot of things. My husband succeeded Bob Oakley as Ambassador to Zaire. My husband was DCM at Islamabad. We were both Assistant Secretaries of State together under Tim Wirth so our journey ended up in a lot of the same places. It did start out a little bit differently.

Phyllis said in those days we were taught that we shouldn’t make waves, and you know we could get pushed around. Well, that may have been what we were taught but it wasn’t what I did. Phyllis knows me well enough to know, and I don’t know where it came from but all you had to do was tell me that I couldn’t do something. Don’t every say that to me.

Now I hadn’t even wanted to come into the Foreign Service, which probably helped because I wasn’t nervous about it. It wasn’t going to be my life. I really didn’t care. I wanted to go to Harvard but I didn’t get in because they weren’t taking women in the program I applied to. So I passed my Foreign Service exam and went to my first day of my A-100 course, which in those days was a very long course — I think it was three months. I sat down next to this man. I took one look at him, I am sorry this is true, and fell in love with him at first sight. So career, everything out the window. This is the man for me. It took about a year for him to come around. But then he proposed. Wow, I was just on Cloud Nine.

Well, then personnel called me in and congratulated me, and I was touched. Isn’t that nice of them? Then they said, “When do you plan to resign?” I said, “Actually I don’t.” That is what I said, “I don’t.”

“You what? You have to resign.”

“Well, make me.” This is how it went. “Make me. You gonna hold a gun to my head? You gonna forge my signature? You gonna fire me?” They didn’t, long story short, but what was even more interesting, there was nothing in writing. Because I asked to see the regulation. I asked to see the policy. I asked to see something just out of curiosity. Nothing. They just imposed this discriminatory policy as a kind of a custom.

I like to think what I did changed things for some other women. I know it did for some because a friend of mine got married a short time after that and was not asked to resign. I wonder if it changed things permanently. Who knows? In any case I went on my honeymoon and came back to work and then of course I got pregnant. That was off the road because believe this, there was no maternity leave. Period, for anybody.

So I resigned and went overseas with my husband as a Foreign Service spouse. Our first post was a two-man, or as we would say today, a two-person, post in rural Spain. There were no spouse issues at that post because it was so small. The principal officer’s wife was a friend and a delight and all that. What I did find there was a true epiphany. I hated it. I just hated it. One day I said, OK, you have got three choices sister. You can go home. I could have gone home. Or you can stay and whine, or you can figure out some way to like this place. I decided the third was probably the best approach. That stayed with me for the rest of my life no matter where I was or what the situation was. It is really about the love, the friends the work, and much less about the place. Although the place can be fun.

Then we went to Central America to our first embassy. Oh boy. Then it hit me full in the face. What is the Foreign Service officer’s spouse supposed to do? You are supposed to do what the boss’ wife tells you to do, like the military. Since my husband was a very junior officer, that made me a very junior wife. No way as you can imagine. In a way the first thing that happened to me was a help because it was so outrageous. We had moved to our house without furniture. In those days you took your stuff with you but it took forever to arrive. We had a sofa, a crib for the baby, a bed for the other kid, a bed for us and that is about it. No phone, no car.

A couple of women came to call on me and said, “Congratulations.” I thought what for? Phyllis knows this story. “You have just been elected as Chairwoman of the Tea Committee of the Voluntary Dames of Tegucigalpa”


“Don’t worry. All you have to do is tea for 50 women once a month.”

“What?” It took awhile but finally I persuaded them to let me use their phone. I called the president of the Voluntary Dames of Tegucigalpa. By then I was bilingual in Spanish and I told her in Spanish — and I am afraid I did not use very nice language by the way – that I would not chair her committee and I would not join her organization if this is the way they operated. One of the women said, “You can’t do that.” I said, “I just did.”…

“The State Department wants you back”

Now we had to disarm the Ambassador’s wife. I had a job teaching at the university. I did a lot of other stuff down there too. I loved Honduras. None of the fast stuff except for parties. A lot of parties. Again this is pretty old fashioned, but I didn’t think a diplomat’s wife should take a salary out of a really poor country. So I planned to donate it back. My husband came home one day and he said guess what.” “Uh oh, what?”

“The Ambassador’s wife is interested in the charity that you were going to give your money to.” Oh, lay one on. So I went to call on her. I said, “I have a few thousand dollars here. I know this is small change. I wanted to give it to this charity but you might want to do it in the name of the American Women’s Club.”…After that I was golden….

I came back to Washington and I…discovered that I wanted to go back to work and have a career. And I did. Then in 1968, we were posted to Islamabad. I had to quit. I am sorry, too….I had to quit and go with my husband and three children. I will admit…I did not play well. I got very frustrated. Probably the worst thing I ever did was to leave a party that we were giving before the party and go to night clubs with some guys. I did that.

It was bad and when I came back to Washington in ’71. I told my husband I am not going through that again. I resumed my career. He was a very clever guy. You must know from the Tegucigalpa incident, so he came home one day waving this pink sheet of paper saying, “The State Department wants you back.”

“Well, I don’t want to go back.”…He said, “Well why don’t you come back? You can always quit if you don’t like it.” That was sort of smart of him, actually.

So I did come back. One thing after another. I was a GS-13. I was brought in as an FS-05. I should have been brought in as a 04 but you can’t grieve your terms of employment. I tried to get a job in admin….They needed help anywhere and I liked personnel and budget and management and all that stuff. I volunteered. I could not get a job. Old boy’s network. I applied for the most ridiculous assignments — anything.

So I said, OK, I will go back to economics. So let’s get an economic job. Well, I had to be in the economic cone. I had to be in the economic cone, so OK, fine. I will be in the economic cone, but you have to take the six-month economic course to get into the cone. Now I am on to something. To get into the course, you had to be in the cone. To get into the cone –

The old lions don’t say no to me. I called out all the people who picked people for the course, and I got in. I studied really hard. I was always good at memorizing stuff and handing it back in a test. The Department was always in awe of people who got high grades in that course….It was a killer course. In six months you got the equivalent of a Masters in economics.

I came back to the Department and the rest is sort of history. I had a wonderful time. I had some good bosses and some bad bosses. One of my bosses, by the way was Brad Bishop, the guy who murdered his family. I didn’t have a clue. He was perfectly normal to me. Ever since I have always said to myself you can’t really tell what people are like….

I wanted a tandem assignment. Those were tough to come by but I was able to negotiate a transfer through USAID and had a wonderful time. I loved Pakistan. On that tour I behaved myself because I got to work, which was a privilege. My husband was DCM and I really didn’t want to make waves for him.

I was called back to Washington to take another job in the Economic bureau and was having a fine time when around 1980 or ’79…, a new assistant secretary called me up to his office to offer me another job. I suddenly got very nervous because the Carter administration had a policy that every bureau had to have at least one woman DAS [Deputy Assistant Secretary]. Now this is not smart. I don’t think it was smart then and I don’t think it would be smart now….

So I went into his office and there was a token job in the bureau that a woman had. It is a good job today, but it was token then. I was sure he was going to offer me that. But he didn’t. He offered me the plum job in the economic bureau. Whoa. I will have to get back to you. Does anybody here know Deane Hinton? Legendary guy. Deane reared back in his chair and I will not quote him word for word. But he said, “Elinor, you are a competent woman.” Bunch of curse words. “If you don’t take this job, they are going to shove an incompetent blankety-blank down my throat.” I thought, OK, that is a pretty good way to talk me into taking a job. So I did and had a wonderful time….

I only want to share two quick things about Kenya….I was called Madame Ambassador. I didn’t like the title. I was called Ambassador, and I was the first woman American ambassador in Kenya; there have been a lot since. The navy used to come to Mombasa to use it as a liberty port. I would fly down and take a helicopter out to these aircraft carriers. What a thrill. My father was a naval officer and wasn’t allowed to see this.

Go down the red carpet, tour it and then go down and have lunch with the admiral. I walk into the admiral’s mess and there would be a rose on my plate. Now I still have trouble explaining to people why this is not appropriate. So I had a policy. If there was a rose on my plate I made these guys talk to me. All men, about women in combat. In the 80’s that was a hot issue. If no rose, no argument….They couldn’t argue with me. I was the Ambassador.….

“This was not going to go well if it got framed as a women’s issue”

Stephanie Kinney: I came along in the early 70’s having discovered the Foreign Service by what means, I have no recollection, in a little town in central Florida called Winterhaven. We learned how to write research papers [in high school] by having a really dumb theme, the vocation of my choice….I chose to look into the Foreign Service. My conclusion, which I parroted back some years later, was that and so if you are a young woman who wants to have both a career and a family, it would appear that the Foreign Service is not for you. The only way to rise is to marry a successful officer….

The famous Macomber report in reforms as they were known in 1970 declared something astounding and unusual. Married women would be allowed to take the exam and come into the Foreign Service. My husband and I were both in Cambridge at the time. He had wanted to be a Foreign Service officer since he was 14….

In 1971 I was told by the Board of Examiners that I was the second married woman to have taken the exam and they put up a list. I never knew who the first one was….The wisdom of President Nixon and his concern about hippies in government caused him to put a freeze on hiring. So I accompanied my husband as a spouse on his first tour in Mexico City.

Of course they lifted the freeze on hiring three months after my eligibility on the list ran out. I took it again in ’75 which again was the year of the class action complaint came in on my own and the rest was my career history from there. But that three years as the wife of, had the same galvanizing effect on my as it did on Elinor and Phyllis….

I was told that I was the first diplomatic wife ever to work. I got to work for $5,000 a year as a teacher at the Colegio Mexicano, thanks to the fact that I followed a family rule: When in doubt, go. I had had enough of the parties. One more American Legion group was just not something I cold tolerate. I said I wasn’t going but I was persuaded to go and that is where I met the woman who offered me the job because she thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread….Perhaps that was what gave me a sense of the importance of building institutionally, which is the thought I want you to take away from my undistinguished life history in the State Department….

I looked at my situation and said well he has got to choose between his chosen career and me or I have to choose between him and having a career, or just change the Foreign Service. Of the three at the time, the third seemed like the best option. So that is what I proceeded to do. I got together and found some older women who seemed sympathetic. We formed the research committee on spouses in which we discovered what Elinor already knew, which was in fact there was no statutory basis for disallowing married women, pregnant women, or any other kind of woman not to be in the Foreign Service.

But it was at a time of rising bra burning and feminism and rancor particularly within the Department. It was our considered opinion that this was not going to go well if it got framed as a women’s issue. I suspect Elinor and I have some shared views in this regard. I don’t think that hyphens are appropriate. I don’t think that special interests are appropriate in this institution in foreign policy or in American diplomacy.

The short unscientific survey which we managed to do with the help of friends of officers in the Department and the results were astounding. 33% of the male officers, and that is who they were in those days — this would have been about ’74-’75 — came back and said their next assignment would be influenced by the working status and possibilities of their wives. Well that is not a woman’s problem; that is a management problem. It is an institutional problem…. It is unusual that things go from policy decision to execution in one year. With the foundation in the State Department of the Family Liaison Office [FLO] was an unusual example of such….

Are there more lessons to be learned? Framing the issue correctly. This wasn’t about women; it was about the institution. It wasn’t about me; it was about us, the Foreign Service family. This was an issue that was emerging but it had a broad constituency which when mobilized turned out to be passionate and could be united. Both of those things are crucial. This was coming from inside, and not outside.

In my experience very little has happened in this building that is significant that comes from inside. If it comes from outside it is like building sand castles. They get washed away as soon as the next bunch of short-termers leave and we all know why. Finding senior friends, senior women was not the problem, senior women were not the enemy, in fact many of them were the fix. We found a way of working across the generations.

Timing — both Democrats and Republicans in the late 70’s were worried about families. Aha. It was not going to be the women’s office or anything else. We framed it in terms of the Foreign Service family. To skip forward because time is fleeting it was established in 1978….On June 12, 1980, the United States and Canada agreed reciprocally to allow the family members of U.S. and Canadian government officials stationed in each other’s countries to work, what in 1975 I envisioned as reciprocal work agreements….

The moral of this story is the nature and the condition of this institution depends on you, not anybody else. It is not about your ego, it is about what is good for the institution. I am personally very distressed about what I see as the deterioration of professional diplomacy in our professional diplomatic service….The main point is to build institutionally, and that is what I took away from the creation of FLO [Family Liaison Office] because I knew that if it was just a bunch of tactical fixes and ameliorations it was not going to make a difference.

What we tried to build was an institution that would provide for people who had been disallowed even acknowledgment by the 1972 Declaration on Spouses, which turned women from being dependents into non-persons. And to help people help themselves in the belief that if they had the information and if they had the access to information they could not only solve their own problems they could do best kinds of work. So that is what I spent the rest of my career doing….

So I would encourage you if you have complaints, don’t look at what can’t be done. Do like Elinor; do like Phyllis and think about what you can use at hand, including those with more experience than you to make a difference and move this institution form the 20th century into the 21st.

“I want a system that works for both men and women”

Eileen Malloy:  Wonderful. I have been asked to add just a couple of comments, so I am going to rush through this very quickly so we can have time for questions. I have been spending the last 11 years as an inspector, and as I go around the world speaking to entry-level officers and other officers, I quite often hear complaints about what State does or does not do for families to support women in the work place.

What I always remind these people is that this is a continuum. The issue that is troubling you today is so far advanced from those issues that were troubling women when we were first allowed to come in. So for my perspective when I came in in 1978, there was no family support at all. There was no child care at all. No maternity leave, no formal tandem program. As you heard you had to go out and broker it one way or another….

There is the child care at FSI [Foreign Service Institute], which is even more recent. There are formal programs and there is this vibrant discussion on work and life balance so my point to people is your concerns today are perfectly legitimate but it is really helpful if you look back and see what the Department has already done and what the constraints are and that will help you do what Stephanie has done and that is frame it in the most constructive way. That is a really important point.

The other thing I want to mention is the Palmer suit. That was the base line suit that said the Department was discriminating against women across the board, in hiring in assignments, in evaluations, everything. And I was the beneficiary of that. I was a part of the class action suit and I was allowed to change my cone and move from consular work which I actually really adored. I am an operations management specialist into political work because it was my perception at that time that I had no future if I stayed in the consular cone. That only by moving could I get into the types of leadership programs that I wanted. I really supported that. I believed in that lawsuit.

So where we are now is you no longer hear the overt expressions from officers that women are not good enough. I was introduced by my boss in Moscow to a group of my Soviet contacts by a monologue of “the State Department requires us to hire women and we search for the best ones we can and we take what we got and here’s our science officer.” You couldn’t get away with doing that nowadays.

In recent times I was trying to mediate a conflict overseas and the man, the superior said, “Well, you know she really got off to a bad start with me by showing up and telling me she had to go off on maternity leave.” So I said, OK, there are still some out there, but most of them have moved out of the system.

The people who were raised in a different era and really couldn’t adapt, so right now, in my humble opinion, the major challenge for the State Department in terms of women is how do we retain them through the upper grades? How do we keep them when you run into that awful crunch between the desire to hold a family and the responsibility and elderly parents and illness, because we are still losing far too many women form the mid grades up.

We are bringing in more than before but we aren’t holding on to them. So the key in the job for all of you in the room, especially you younger folks, is working really hard to create work-life balance conditions that work for both men and women. I have been so happy to have a male subordinate come to me and say, “I really need to go home on time every Wednesday to coach my kid’s little league.” He feels empowered to do that because the women of the previous generation fought for those rights.

So I don’t want a system that works just for women, I want a system that works for both men and women and only then will we have a healthy work force and have really talented people willing to stay in the Foreign Service. So I am going to shut up and open up the floor for questions.

“Women tend to be called good managers and men are called leaders”

Q: I would just like to start off by saying your talk is real inspirational — every one of you. Some of you have touched on this a little bit so please forgive the redundancy. I am wondering what are some issues you saw during your careers for women who had advanced to your high levels that you continue to see today?

Eileen Malloy:  I can tell you right off the bat it is the way people are evaluated. If anybody’s ever worked on a promotion panel and you read the evaluation reports of women and the evaluation reports of men you see a huge difference. Women are evaluated on the bases of where they are right now. What they have already demonstrated, what they have already learned.

Men tend to be evaluated by their potential. Women tend to be called good managers and men are called leaders. Yet of you get down to the specifics they are actually doing exactly the same thing and showing the same traits. So that would by my answer.

Elinor Constable:…I would urge anyone who is working here or works at another agency to simply be mindful and pay attention what is happening. What can I do to support sensible reasonable change? I work with people on performance evaluations quite a lot during my career. I have a couple of tips for people: If a man is writing about a woman for example, I said go through and change all of the pronouns to he and see how it reads. If it sounds OK, it is probably OK.

I don’t think any of you have seen what used to be in reports about women. A friend of mine was described as doing a very good job even though she was “broad in the beam.” Seriously. Hopefully that has stopped.

But there are subtle ways in which these distinctions remain, and I love the idea of thinking about men and women. My policy by the way when I managed a lot of men, I made them go home at close of business. I made them. Their deadlines were opening of business, not close of business. I would stand over them as they packed up their briefcases and walked out the door to go home with their families. If they came in at 5:00 a.m. the next day, I didn’t care but they were going to go home. So I get that idea….

Q: You all have given your personal experiences and I can relate deeply to. But nobody has mentioned political considerations. You mentioned under Jimmy Carter a quota for a DAS and that kind of thing but nobody has mentioned Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton, and those factors. Did you have anything to say about that?…

Elinor Constable: I think the middle level qualification is critical. Having a woman or a minority at the top of an organization may or may not make any difference at all, and very often it makes no difference at all. What you have to have is somebody, no matter who they are, in a position to influence the middle level to get a situation where competent women are considered for jobs.

In my own experience I had a terrible time getting my hands on a job. Once I got my hands on it I could do it, but there was nobody except for a certain token effort, and the Carter Administration was very ham-handed about it….

You need to have within the pool that you are considering for any position a woman and a minority. Then go for the best person. But if you don’t make sure that pool always includes some diversity, you are never going to get there because people hire their clones. That is just standard, I don’t know how you would describe it. White guys hire white guys. If they know them, they are comfortable with them. So you have to make sure that the pool is mixed….

“Whatever you are, be you”

Q: Thank you. I really appreciate the comments that have been made. The continuing discussion that goes on seems to be involved right now is whether women can get ahead or if they have to act like men. I would just like your thoughts on that.

Eileen Malloy: Since I entered the workforce, that was in the 1970’s that was a period of time when women thought they had to be more masculine than men. A lot of women were not nurturing or particularly helpful to fellow women in that time period. We now have gone beyond that. In the last ten years or so I have seen a blossoming of women at all levels coming together and making a conscious effort to help other women at all levels,. Since there is only one token job for a female and it is either you or me is no longer there. There are more opportunities.

I think you can be a feminine female, be whatever you want to be as long as you have the leadership skills and technical skills and management skills for whatever your specialty is and a good deal of emotional intelligence that you can succeed. You don’t necessarily have to wear a three-piece striped suit. You can be yourself and still succeed.

Elinor Constable: Amen to that. It is true that when I came into the Foreign Service in the 50’s and then on through there was this notion about women acting like men. I never bought it and I never did it. I always was me. Now maybe I am like a man, I don’t know, but I was always just me.

Now I have to tell you that very often, I am ashamed to say this but we all do this. We use our character our qualities and who we are and in my case I am a woman and when I was in Kenya I had a very good relationship with the president of Kenya. I didn’t approve of him really. I had to have a good working relationship with it. I used to go into his office and sit next to him and pat him on his knee. Now a man could never do that, but he loved it. He told a couple of senators one time, “We love your ambassador; she is a mother.”

So I think what Eileen said is right on. Be yourself, use your strengths. Don’t pretend to be anything. If you are a tough lady, be a tough lady. If you are a softer person, be a softer person but whatever you are, be you.


Pictured: Event participants with ADST Spring 2015 interns.


The Irrepressible Prudence Bushnell

As a teenage daughter of a Foreign Service Officer who moved his family from country to country every so often, Prudence Bushnell frequently complained that the Foreign Service ruined her life. It is ironic then — poetic even — that as destiny would have it, Bushnell found herself in Dakar, Senegal, in 1981 on her first post as an FSO, followed by 24 incredible years of service around the world.

During that time, Bushnell confronted misogyny, an embassy bombing, and warlords in several high-threat posts. But Bushnell also experienced the tenacity of women in West Africa, helped fight corruption in Latin America, and witnessed the gradual destruction of gender roles in the Foreign Service.

In her interview below with Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2005, Bushnell discusses her time in the Service starting with her decision to volunteer in 1981, the influence from her female predecessors, and working in the African Affairs Bureau, for which she travelled to Senegal, Rwanda, and other West African countries. Bushnell frequently faced skeptics from host governments and even within the Department, even as she pushed for progress on such issues as fighting the AIDS epidemic and empowering women.

Her honest account of the peacekeeping efforts in Rwanda after the genocide holds nothing back and is followed by an equally stirring discussion of terrorizing warlords in Liberia and Sierra Leone. After the devastating bombing of the Nairobi embassy in Kenya, Bushnell was assigned to serve in Latin America where she worked towards positively influencing the corrupt governments—for which she received some criticism. In closing, Bushnell talks about her forward-looking definition of leadership and her work in the Leadership and Management School of the Foreign Service Institute before retiring in 2005.

Read also about her efforts to combat AIDS and the Embassy Nairobi bombing.

Return to Fascinating Figures

Go to Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History


“There’s no way I was going to be a wife of a Foreign Service officer. I was already rebelling against that.”

BUSHNELL: The women I saw [growing up] were either wives and mothers or single women doing secretarial, consular, or personnel work who would come to our house for Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners. So, these were my role models. There’s no way I was going to be a wife of a Foreign Service officer. I was already rebelling against that.

What else was I going to be? Mom had both Susan [my sister] and me take typing and shorthand because “you can always be a secretary.” Women were still very constrained in their career choices.…

I found Dallas in the 70s to be culturally alien to me, especially since by now I had been working in professional jobs. I had a very hard time finding professional employment and finally decided to go it alone as an independent contractor. I did some supervisory training and the like. The most interesting, and certainly my greatest challenge, was a contract to help the senior engineers at NASA in Houston understand the male midlife crisis and cope with the sense of burnout they were feeling. Both were trendy issues.

So, there I was at the age of 33, spending my waking hours becoming an expert on the development cycles of American men. I can’t believe my chutzpa standing in front of a bunch of 50-something-year-old men. But I was prepared. When the inevitable question, “What makes you think as a woman you can stand up and talk about who we are?”

I was ready with the retort, “How many gynecologists or obstetricians are women?” At that time, of course, there were very few….

Once they got used to me, most were just fine. They recognized I knew what I was talking about and, once they relaxed, enjoyed the experience. I had one encounter, though, that left a significant mark. I met up with the nasty misogynist who made it his business to try to humiliate me as much as possible. It was my first taste of such behavior. It was a difficult and valuable experience to keep my cool, and I survived it. That was the lesson.

I could stand up to sarcasm, rolling eyes, and sexist remarks, maintain my dignity and survive to talk about it the next day. A good lesson in dealing with some of the jerks I later came across.

In 1979, Americans were taken hostage at our embassy in Tehran. All of a sudden a place and life I had put behind were in the headlines…. A day or so later, I heard an ad on the radio; Secretary of State Muskie was encouraging women and minorities who fit a certain profile to apply to a mid-level entry program. All of this was taking place during one of the hottest and driest summers in Dallas history. Dick (my husband) and I decided it was time to move on, and I might as well check out the Foreign Service. So, I applied and became so focused on the entry process I didn’t really think about the possible outcome….

[My parents] were shocked when I told them. After all my complaining about how the Foreign Service has ruined my life as a teenager when we moved from Karachi to Tehran, here I was voluntarily applying to join.

“Don’t let people know how smart you are, because men don’t like to hire women who are smart”

Q: How had the women’s movement affected you by then?

BUSHNELL: I found a whole lot to be sympathetic with. When I separated from my first husband, even though I had been joint and sometimes sole wage earner, I was denied credit. Couldn’t get a credit card. The bank did, however, let him cash our joint tax refund over his signature only. I was furious. They justified it saying he was “the man of the house.”

When I looked for work early on, an employment counselor told me, “Don’t let people know how smart you are, because men don’t like to hire women who are smart.” Years later, in Dallas, I interviewed with a guy who worked for the Office of Personnel Management — a federal agency, mind you. He advised me to wear skirts with longer slits in them so I could attract more attention. Don’t get me started. So, I was very grateful to the courageous women who decided to do something about the way we were being treated. Were it not for Alison Palmer and the women’s class action lawsuit against the State Department, for example, I would never have joined the Service.

There weren’t that many role models for professional married women. You either chose family or you chose career. I had the huge advantage of a husband who truly believed in me and who assisted me in appreciating my value and potential. He is passionate about people and he would push me to take risks and to stand up for myself. After doing so a few times, I did not need his encouragement. That said, in the Foreign Service, I encountered some terrific women leaders, like Roz Ridgway, Melissa Wells, Jane Coon, and others of the generation before me who paved the way.

Challenging Gender Roles in the Foreign Service – Dakar

[One] issue was the fact that my husband came as a so-called “dependent” (now termed “family member”). Remember, until the mid-70’s women officers who married were expected to resign. This embassy had experience with only one other male spouse, and that was not a good experience.

Within the first month of our arrival at post, Dick was offered a job. He had both accounting and legal skills to offer. About a week later, a group of women spouses came to the house very put-out that Dick had gotten the job so quickly when they had been unable to get one at all. They felt, probably correctly, that the administration of the mission had thought that a male spouse had better find decent work soon.

I felt very ambivalent. On the one hand, I understood exactly what they were saying; and on the other hand, I thought, why are you mad at me? It’s not my fault. Do you want me to tell Dick to quit the job? I certainly didn’t want him to….

It was my first post. I was checking things out—how things work, where I fit, and that Dick be accepted. He was. The second year, Dick applied for and got the job as Community Liaison Officer—I think he was one of the first men to have that position in the world—without any fuss.

 “I can’t believe the United States would send a woman to do this job!” – Bombay

BUSHNELL: Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister and … U.S. relations were not good. She threw out American businesses, for example. There were significant strains between the Indian government and the United States government, which made us all the more grateful that we were in Bombay and not New Delhi. Bombay was a very cosmopolitan city, home of “Bollywood,” and movie stars. The city was overwhelming….

Professionally, I found it challenging, because I was the first woman to hold the position of Admin Officer. A lot of Indians felt very uncomfortable dealing with a woman and made no bones about it. The first time I met the Chief of Police he stared and said, “I can’t believe the United States of America would send a woman to do this job!” The status of women was abominable.

In addition, there were tensions among the FSNs [Foreign Service Nationals]  that I had not seen in Senegal. I found it difficult to form teams among the people with whom I worked at the Consulate. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy most of the people as individuals; I just couldn’t get the supervisors to see themselves as part of a larger team. So I stopped even having staff meetings. I’ve always regretted that. I think I should have put more effort into it….

Bombay was the point in my career when I began facing disasters. Twice when I was “acting” in the absence of the Consul General, we had crises. First, when Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated and then when the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, which was in our consular district, experienced a chemical leak that killed I don’t know how many people, and injured thousands and thousands more. The British Consul General was assassinated during our tour, and we had the fall-out from President Reagan’s decision to bomb Libya. Lots of demonstrations in front of the consulate.

I was the post security officer, so Harry Cahill, our CG [Consul General] would always send me out to face them. “You’re such a nice lady, they won’t know what to do, and they certainly won’t harm you,” he would say….

“As an ambitious Foreign Service Officer and happily married woman, I decided to turn the job down”

My name was forwarded to the Deputies’ Committee by the AF [African Affairs] Bureau as one of their nominees for Ambassador to Conakry. I was so excited. This is the committee that decides on the names State Department is going to send to White House personnel as its candidate. For some unknown reason, the Committee decided instead to put my name up for Rwanda.

I began filling out forms the likes of which I’ve never seen before:  for the White House, for the Senate, and, of course, umpteen ones for State, including medical stuff. I hadn’t gotten any word from MED, so I called just before Christmas. I was told that Dick had been denied clearance for Rwanda for reasons she couldn’t tell because that was confidential information. I was devastated.

Dick and I had to make a serious decision from pretty awful choices:  me to go to Rwanda without Dick; have Dick come without a clearance on our own dime—and risk the reason for which he didn’t get a clearance; or say “no” to the opportunity. By this time in the bidding cycle … there weren’t that many slots open. So, as an ambitious Foreign Service officer and happily married woman, I had to confront what was most important to me:  meet my values close-up. I decided to turn the job down.

Two weeks later I read in the newspaper that President Clinton, who had just taken office, was nominating George Moose [pictured] as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. I had been George’s DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] only a couple of years before [at Dakar, Senegal].…

It was an unspoken mantra by the White House [that] Africa issues, unless they turned into disasters, seldom made it to the seventh floor, where the top of the hierarchy worked….George offered me the job as Deputy Assistant Secretary, responsible for transnational issues in Sub-Saharan Africa, i.e. policies relating to democracy, human rights, humanitarian assistance, conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peacekeeping, HIV Aids, environment, drugs, bugs, everything that crossed borders for 48 countries. George turned to Ed Brynn as his Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary…. Ed had responsibility for all of the daily oversight and paperwork of the Bureau. For more than a year, there were only the three of us….

A good deal of my time was spent trying to get the interagency to agree to sending UN peacekeepers to Rwanda to implement peace accords that had put an end to a civil war between the government of Rwanda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF…. Eventually, the U.S. government was strong-armed by the UN and the French to support the Rwandan peace….

(Go here to read more about Ambassador Bushnell’s wrenching account on Rwanda)

It was after the Rwanda disaster that the U.S. government became keen about Africa regional peacekeeping, which eventually turned into an arm of the African Union…. Liberia was also in my portfolio, so I would go there now and then.

On one of these occasions I was standing on the tarmac with our Ambassador, Bill Tweddell, watching a plane being loaded up to head back toward Lagos. We were pretty sure the cargo was illicit stuff—diamonds, gold, or drugs. The corruption among the Nigerians in Liberia was well known. On the other hand, Liberia had a multi-faceted civil war going on and the Nigerians were controlling at least part of the country, maintaining a peace of some sorts. So, as corrupt as these peacekeepers may have been, we were even more concerned about what would happen if they left Liberia…. Poor Liberia. It was divided up into territories under the control of warlords who represented different ethnic groups.

We used [Liberia] for our radio relay stations during the Cold War and had strong ties. The Liberians had equally strong expectations that we would intervene in some way, but we did not. George Moose would send me to Liberia now and then to bawl out the warlords but we had no active involvement….

On the other hand we did not want to signal the Liberian people that we were washing our hands of them. Even if we could do no more than be present, we were determined to at least be present. I don’t argue with that as long as there are colleagues brave and willing enough to go there. So, we had a fairly minimal presence that we could pull out and put back in….

“Taylor began to call me ‘my dear.’ [By] the third time, I had had it.”

Q: Who were some of the characters that we were having to deal with?

BUSHNELL: Ha! “Characters” is right, none of them anyone you would want to meet. The most long-lasting warlord was Charles Taylor. I went to … Gbarnga [capital city of Bong County, Liberia], which was in the middle of the jungle, via UN helicopter to deliver a demarche. He made us wait an absurd amount of time and by the time we finally got to see him in his throne room … I was hungry and very irritated.

Then he talked, and talked and talked. I have an agreement with myself that I will allow men to talk at me without taking a breath for only a certain amount of time — usually, 15 minutes for Americans, 25 for Africans. About 30 minutes into his monologue, Taylor began to call me “my dear.” Twice I decided to ignore him. The third time I had had it.

I interrupted him suggesting that he never again call a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the United States of America “my dear.” He accused me of being culturally insensitive and told me he called everyone my dear. I retorted that I would call him Mr. President and he could call me either Ms. Bushnell or Madame Secretary. By this time, he had lost his rhythm to say nothing of face, and he ordered us out. He told the UN peacekeeping commander never to let me back in. I found out recently that Taylor really did call everyone “my dear.” Still, I have no regrets at my action.

Another warlord was Roosevelt Johnson. I met him on the same trip to Liberia with the same message: stop it. Johnson reveled in telling how Charles Taylor’s soldiers would kill people, slit open their chests, and eat their hearts. I think he was trying to impress me, so of course I refused to show it.

The last one I saw on that trip was El Hadji Kromah in yet another part of Liberia. To get to him we had to go through checkpoints of child soldiers who were often high on drugs. It was frightening. We sat in a living room with walls decorated with bullet shells. I had to use his bathroom and he locked me in. My first thought was that he didn’t like my message and was going to keep me hostage. Actually, he had done it because there was no way to keep the door closed….

“At every stop I would meet with women. It was a real privilege and one of the best parts of my job”

I also spent a good deal of time on women’s issues, which I strongly believed should have been part of our mainstream policy portfolio.

African women play a major role in their societies, even though they are shunted aside. In many countries they’re responsible for raising and educating their children, as well as tending the fields and the home. If you say you want to promote democracy you’d better promote the rights of over 50 percent of the citizenry at the same time or you’re not walking the talk. I spent a huge amount of time traveling, going to countries people from the front office seldom visited—Guinea Bissau, Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger… At every stop I would meet with women. It was a real privilege and one of the best parts of my job.

Unfortunately, women’s issues were relegated to the development assistance portfolio. Policymakers too often see women only as victims in need of economic and humanitarian assistance but that’s only part of it. They are also potential political actors. In Rwanda, for example, almost 50% of the parliament is now made up of women because so many men died in the genocide. So, one of the things that I wanted to accomplish in these countries was to bring the Ambassador face-to-face with women as political actors and not just as the subjects of need.

Q: But, when you start talking about giving women more power you’re upsetting the male dominance and I can see where an ambassador saying, “I don’t want to tackle this sort of thing” or feel uncomfortable about doing it. Were you able to both move our own apparatus and do anything else about it?

BUSHNELL: You know, the first human rights reports I worked on in ’82 did not include domestic violence because it was considered a cultural issue. So I can’t say that the Department or our ambassadors were particularly forward-leaning. On the other hand, the Clinton White House was serious about women.

Prep for the Beijing Women’s Conference had started and people were recognizing a shift. Some ambassadors would quietly go with me or host an event. A couple of them, who just didn’t get it, had their spouses host something.

“I was beginning to understand how to use power.”

As a senior government official I had the power of position. By going out to meet and show respect to women I could bring not only the U.S. Ambassador but also the local press, which helped them. I feel strongly that it’s in the interest of the United States Government and certainly is a moral imperative to deal with issues of women.

J’aime avec prudence

The United States was targeting resources to it. There was a certain amount of rhetoric given by other countries, but we were the ones who were most actively and strategically engaged…. It was a huge problem. Africans, like a lot of Americans, are very conservative and do not talk about these things.… Also, you cannot talk about HIV and AIDS without getting into the issue of women’s empowerment—or lack thereof….

We were into commodities big time, promoting safe sex. We were also into education. In Central Africa, the most popular condom was called “Prudence.” You can imagine what a wonderful time people had with my name. When I left the African Bureau I had a drawer full of Prudence condoms, Prudence aprons, Prudence t-shirts. These were francophone countries and the tag line in the advertisements was “J’aime avec prudence.”

(Read more about how Ambassador Bushnell and others tackled the AIDS crisis when it first appeared.)

“I had been patronized for addressing an issue others, men especially, had put in the category of ‘too hard’”

BUSHNELL: Daniel Arap Moi was Vice President under Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta. When Kenyatta died in office, Moi stepped in and never stepped down. He continued to rule through a coalition of small tribes…. He also played the U.S. pretty shrewdly during the Cold War. In return for his support, we turned a blind eye to how he ruled domestically. When the Cold War ended, we began to insist on democratic elections.

In order to “stay at the table,” which is how Kenyans referred to presidential politics, Moi and company held fraudulent elections in ’92. We showed our disapproval by withdrawing aid and giving Moi the cold shoulder. By the time I arrived in ’96, we were down to about 19 million dollars in bilateral assistance directed through non-governmental organizations. Nothing went to the Moi government….

What bothered Kenyans most was the effect of corruption on schooling, which they valued highly and the abominable condition of roads. Stolen road taxes meant greater difficulty getting goods to market. Among diplomatic colleagues, I found huge frustration both with the level of corruption and Moi’s reaction should anything be said about. It usually entailed public blasts about interfering in domestic affairs.

The game was pretty simple: the Moi government would steal assistance money, then insult us if we said anything. People would suffer, the government would go to more donors to get more money which they could steal, etc. I decided to try to change the dynamics by taking on the game. I was lucky that our embassy had a large and experienced Country Team, so there was plenty of experience, support and enthusiasm for confronting corruption.

This was hardly the first time I had been patronized for addressing an issue others, men especially, had put in the category of “too hard.”

I began talking about corruption in my speeches — something Kenyan people could not do with impunity. Pretty soon things were showing up in media and more and more people, including my diplomatic colleagues, began to chime in.

It was an attitude I had seen before – “This is Africa; what can you do?”…

President Moi —“Corrupt to his soul”

Initially, he [Moi] wouldn’t see me. I was the second consecutive woman ambassador, and Moi was not at all pleased to have another female.

Q: Elinor Constable had been there before that too.

BUSHNELL: And then Smith Hempstone, who caused an enormous great controversy by going head-to-head with Moi, then Aurelia Brazeal and then me. Moi was convinced that the U.S. Government was intentionally sending him women as a message that he was just not good enough to merit a white male. Nor, evidently did he like what he heard about my promotion of human rights. After presenting credentials, I had a hard time getting him to see me. Once I did, we crafted an interesting and rather strange relationship.

It started when I invited him to the Residence for breakfast one day. That one-on-one started a precedent which led to some very heated discussions. Respectful but blunt.

He would fly into tantrums sometimes, or just get mad and cranky. I’d bring him up straight by asking point blank, “Why are you yelling at me?”

Once I stopped an argument in mid-stream and asked if he enjoyed fighting with me. “Yes,” he responded, “I am a democrat.” I think he rather enjoyed our interchanges….

By the time I got there he had been in power for 20-some years, far too long for anybody. He was in his 70s, in good health physically and mentally, still very shrewd and fairly competent. Sometimes he’d ramble, but then don’t we all?

I think he is corrupt to his soul and had found a way to bring his actions into harmony with his evangelical religion. I think he really believed that he was beloved by his people, clueless that the opposite was true because he surrounded himself with sycophants. Domestically, he was shrewd and ruthless; around the region, Moi behaved as statesman. He used this to his advantage to keep us in his debt. We would ask him to pull together the Somalia warlords, and he would do it.

He was sympathetic to our efforts to bring peace to Sudan and, at our request, would talk to his crony, Mobutu, president of Zaire. Like a lot of presidents, Moi wanted to be known in history as the elder statesman and a regional peacemaker….

U.S. ambassadors need to be fairly circumspect. When the Country Team and I decided to take on the issue of corruption, we had to be clever about it….

The World Bank was going to provide around $100 million dollars in an energy sector loan. Given the government’s proclivity to steal, to say nothing of their lousy completion rate (something like three percent) my colleagues in Washington and I decided to do something. I knew the U.S. delegate to the World Bank. With other colleagues, we decided she would vote “no” on the energy loan. That got a lot of attention. Both the World Bank and other governments took notice that we were serious about corruption….

The proposal put to the Kenyans was to direct the energy sector loan through a private sector bank that would ensure transparency.

A social friend of mine arranged a meeting with Moi on a Sunday afternoon at his private residence – very hush-hush – to discuss this. I was struck by how sterile and lonely the house appeared. He said to me, “If I agree to this it’s going to set a precedent, and I’m worried.

I said, “You’re right, it will and I’d be worried about it too if I were you, because it means doing business differently.”

He said, “I don’t want to do business differently.”

And I said, “Then you’re not going to get the money. There you are, Mr. President, you need to choose. I know life is unfair and this doesn’t seem good and right, but you need to understand our perspective and you have a choice to make. That’s what leaders do, they make difficult decisions.”

He called me after I got home, about an hour later and said, “I’ve decided to do it.” And I said, “Good for you, Mr. President, you’ve made the right choice.”

I felt like a life coach.

Nairobi Embassy Bombing – August 7, 1998

On Friday, August 7, we started another business day as usual. The DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] was on leave. Our Political Counselor was acting DCM and I had asked him to preside over the Friday Country Team meeting [with senior representatives of the sections and agencies at post]. I was finally successful in scheduling a meeting with the Minister of Commerce to talk about an upcoming U.S. trade delegation, a big deal given how we stiff-armed Kenya –so I was not present.

I remember asking that the Country Team discuss how our newcomers were settling in and whether we were reaching the right balance on issues of security alerting but not paralyzing people to the dangers.

In retrospect, that was a very ironic conversation….

As was the case in many official meetings, the Minister had invited the press to ask questions and take photos before the real talk began. A few minutes after they left, we heard a loud “boom.”

I asked, “Is there construction going on”? It sounded like the kind of boom you get when a building is being torn down.

The Minister said, “No, there isn’t.” He and almost everybody else in the room got up to walk to the window.

I was the last person up and had taken a few steps when an incredible noise and huge percussion threw me off my feet….

(Read the rest of her account on the bombing here.)

That summer was very difficult. I had spent so much time in Nairobi in the aftermath of the bombing focused on my leadership responsibilities that I did not fully appreciate how hurt I was — not physically hurt, but how wounded I was. I never had the chance to be a victim. When I came back to the U.S. the world became surreal. I sensed that somehow I was not behaving the way a proper victim should—whatever that meant….

When Secretary Albright visited Kenya after the bombing, she asked about my next assignment. My husband, Dick, and Linda Howard, who had been my OMS [Office Management Specialist] for years, had already decided they wanted Guatemala. So, when the Secretary asked where I wanted to go, Guatemala was what came out of my mouth.

It was a complete accident. She thought I’d be good in Guatemala, so that was it. WHA, the Western Hemis

phere Affairs bureau, was less than thrilled to have an interloper come into their turf and let me know that in no uncertain terms. I was told they already had their “minority candidate.”

We left Nairobi in May 1999 and I had my confirmation hearing within two or three weeks of our departure. I then went into Spanish language training….

I also had yet another run-in before the first anniversary commemoration. I was told that the grand invitation-only event to be held in the Benjamin Franklin Room [at the State Department]  was in part a response to family members of the Americans who were killed, some of whom remained very angry at the way they were treated by the Department. In other words, it was a rather forced event.

Space was obviously limited and I kept submitting names of people from Nairobi who had not been invited. I was told that I was ruining the seating chart and hit the ceiling. Then, of course, I was told I was over-reacting. So, the tension continued….

“I reminded him that this was the United States and as an American citizen I could say whatever I damn well wanted”

During courtesy calls to the Hill before my confirmation hearing I was specifically told that I was not to talk about anything that did not deal with Guatemala. Nevertheless, I mentioned my concerns for security because the Department still did not ask for or receive fund adequate to address the problems embassies had around the world. Got into big trouble.

In those days, you had to have someone from H [Department’s Congressional Liaison] accompany you. I was with a political appointee seeing a powerful Senate staffer, and began to talk about security. The baby-sitter interrupted and said, “Ambassador, you’re not allowed to talk about that.”

When we left the staffer’s office I reminded him that this was the United States and as an American citizen I could say whatever I damn well wanted.

Later that summer I ended up in the Department’s medical unit with a terrible, terrible earache. The doctor who saw me said it was TMJ [Temporomandibular joint dysfunction] and asked if I was clenching my jaw a lot. I’ll say! Anyway, after about six weeks of one-on-one Spanish at FSI, I got my 3/3 rating, and headed to Guatemala.

The WHA helped prepare me very well, though I have to say I was shocked to learn during the last days of consultations that I would have 24-hour security guards, because one of our ambassadors [John Gordon Mein] had been assassinated in 1968.

Thirty years later, Guatemala was still a violent country and bodyguards were not unusual among the elites and diplomats. It was so different from my experience in Kenya—I had an advance car, an armed guard in my vehicle and a chase car with more armed guards….

Guatemalan President Portillo — “What a guy. Actually, he was more of a little popinjay with a big ego”

BUSHNELL:  Washington had given me two charges:  To put pressure on the government to improve its human rights record – specifically, to get to the bottom of the murder of Bishop Gerardi, a human rights activist — and to persuade the government to disband the Estado Mayor, the Presidential Guard, which had a lock on the Presidency both literally and figuratively.…(Photo: AP)

It doesn’t take long to see the disparity of incomes. There are a few very, very wealthy families, some middle class and a mass of very poor people. Guatemala was second only to Haiti in statistics regarding poverty, maternal death, infant deaths, etc. It was second only to Columbia in gun ownership, violence, and kidnapping. And yet, perhaps this is apocryphal, I was told the country had the highest per capita rate of privately owned helicopters in the world. It did not take long to pick up a virulent strain of racism among some Guatemalan elites, nor the hard, cold mistrust of the Mayan people….

Regardless of their personal roots, the military was responsive to the elites. It a symbiotic relationship— elites allowed the military to go keep the government and countryside under wraps and in return, the military ensured that reforms— labor reform, tax reform, any kind of reform—were kept at bay so the elites could make the money they wanted….

But let me talk about Guatemalan elections first. The candidate who won, Alfonso Portillo, was a populist and a horror in the eyes of the elites. His political party was run by Efrain Rios-Montt, a military dictator who had seized power in the ‘80s and went on to sponsor the most bloody and most repressive years of the internal conflict.

He supplemented the military with civilian militias, giving them guns and saying, “Okay, go kill people in the villages over there.” He had Mayans kill other Mayans and implemented a deliberate strategy to accomplish three things: engage in conflict in the countryside; keep the mayhem away from the Guatemala City; and punish the people fighting the military — punish them, their families, their children, their fields, and their villages. People were baffled that Mayans would vote for the very man who created such horrors. But they did.

The elites decided that the sky had fallen, that hell had frozen over, that nothing worse could ever happen and that the American ambassador would, of course, have nothing to do with him. I didn’t have that option, nor would I have chosen it initially because, as I said, Portillo was mouthing all of the right things about human rights, tax structures, reforming the presidential guard, implementing the Peace Accords—everything the U.S. government wanted to hear. I was lambasted in the press for dealing with the new government.

Portillo didn’t speak a word of English, which was good for my Spanish, and was clueless about putting a government together. He had been a university professor in Mexico and made no bones about the fact that he left Mexico before he was brought to justice for killing. What a guy. Actually, he was more of a little popinjay with a big ego.

He lived near the Residence and would frequently come for breakfast. Over the period of two and a half years, my end of the conversations deteriorated. At the beginning of his administration I would start with something like “So, Mr. President, wonderful that you’re saying all these good things. Certainly hope that you will implement them.”

This morphed into “Mr. President, it’s now been six months, eight months, nine months, twelve months, two years since you have been talking about reforms but you still haven’t implemented them. Things are getting serious.”

“Women can say things that would get other men in big trouble

I initially thought part of the reason he couldn’t get anything done was an ignorance of basic management. I invited Portillo and his vice president for breakfast one day and asked each of them to answer the two things in writing:   1) Three things I want to be sure to implement during my term of office. And 2) I would like to be known in history as….”

Once they wrote their answers down I asked them to exchange papers. At one point I thought to myself, “I can’t believe that I’m doing this.’

Q: Sounds like one of your management sessions.

BUSHNELL: It was, but it sure didn’t accomplish anything of particular good. As time went on, conditions in the country degenerated further. One of my last private conversations with Portillo ended with the following. “Mr. President, we know for a fact that your personal secretary is accepting money from drug dealers.”

Portillo responded: “So that must mean you think that the money ends up with me.”

I shrugged and replied “Mr. President, what can I say?”

Q: He would accept this and still come for breakfast?

BUSHNELL: Yes, he would. I think that women can say things that would get other men in big trouble. Women colleagues have noted that, as well.

Trust at some l

evel is easier to establish; men do not feel as threatened by women, and a particular tone of voice can allow us to say the kinds of things, like “Mr. President, stealing isn’t going to do you any good. You don’t want to end up in history as one of the greatest thieves in the country, do you? No? Well, then, you just have to stop.”

Q: My definition would be nagging.

BUSHNELL: That’s what men always say when women give negative feedback. Think of it this way:  the U.S. Ambassador is advising a head of state to stop stealing while continuing her ability to influence. When National Geographic did a video called, “Inside an Embassy,” Portillo was asked to say a few words on camera.

Know what he said? “Relations between our two countries have never been as good and this ambassador, she’s really good. You know, she pulls my ear now and then and tells me to shape up.”…

“I had never been so vilified on the one hand and yet satisfied about what we accomplished”

Alien smuggling was another big issue that got a lot of our attention, although it did not directly connect to any particular funding program…. We dealt with boatloads of Chinese and mixed groups including Iranians, Egyptians, and even an Australian — people from all over the world….

I also tried, as I did in Kenya, to organize a group of the key donor countries. We called ourselves the Grupo de Dialogo and were quite successful in getting attention in the press to issues of corruption and other Peace Accord issues. Unfortunately, the multilateral banks, like the World Bank and Inter-American Fund consider it their job to give out money, so we only had a minimal impact in using funding as a lever of influence.

As we speak, the man who was Vice President of Guatemala at the time I was there is now in jail. Former President Portillo slipped over the border back to Mexico with the posse behind him…literally. So much for the gang I dealt with….

I left Guatemala [in 2002] with mixed feelings. I thought that the mission team could point to significant achievements but I was personally exhausted from the efforts. I had never been so vilified on the one hand and yet satisfied about what we accomplished. Even one-time critics in the media admitted I had made a positive difference.

As to Guatemala as a whole, I felt that the level of mistrust and violence would shackle it for years. Yet, I was also struck by the sense of optimism among so many Mayan people who had and continue to suffer the most. Most of all, I left with a sense of having survived one tough assignment….

“When I was a little girl I never could have dreamed of being a leader”

The kind of leadership that makes an activist ambassador effective is neither welcomed nor rewarded. In Washington, senior career people are expected to be implementers and managers of policy, not leaders of people or policy. We still have an old-fashioned system in which the most important work is done by the most senior level people. Everyone else is expected to feed the next level up. It’s a huge expenditure of time for possibly minimal results. But there you are.…

Q: Pru, you’re getting out of the garden spot of Guatemala and leaving your bodyguard behind I guess and heading for the more dangerous area of Washington, D.C., the political swamp.

BUSHNELL: The job as Dean of the Leadership and Management School… a gift of the cosmos. The last three years turned out to be among the best of my career…. It was … management and crisis training divisions into the newly created Leadership and Management School—LMS.

The notion of leadership has changed dramatically in my lifetime and therefore yours. When I was a little girl I never could have dreamed of being a leader because the notion at the time was that you were either a born leader or you were not — it was not something that could be taught. Plus, with rare exception, leaders were men.

The leaders engaged with people from the top down, keeping a distance to maintain a certain aura, had access to information that others didn’t, and were deemed to have all of the answers. They would make the decisions for everyone else to implement. In return, they were given the attention, resources and respect from below.

With technological changes, new demographics in the workplace, globalization, specialization and a host of other differences in our world, new concepts of leadership have emerged. Among them is the notion that a number of leadership behaviors can be learned. Also, that leadership means motivating and enabling others to go in a certain direction. The effective leader leverages team’s efforts toward an accomplishment, rather than going it alone. This is a different notion of leadership….

The whole point of leadership, and why I have such passion about it, is to make it easier for the people who want to make a difference to do so. Without leadership, we will still attract smart and committed people but they will end up doing a job with one hand tied behind their back. It’s the loosening of the hands that my job was all about these last three years.

(Below, Ambassador Bushnell receives the Service to America Career Achievement Award in 2004, with CNN’s Judy Woodruff and State Department colleague and Embassy Nairobi survivor Stephen Nolan.)




Wives and Women in the Foreign Service: The Creation of the Family Liaison Office

A 1957 State Department publication of “Suggestions for Wives from Other Foreign Service Wives” introduced the idea that the main occupational role for wives was the support of their husbands. While never written into the formal regulations of the State Department, it was common practice for women employed in the Foreign Service to resign once married, and even more so once they had children. Until 1972, the spouses of FSO’s were considered government employees, and were therefore included in the employee evaluations of their partners. The introduction of the 1972 State Department Directive, the Declaration on Spouses, changed this. It provided spouses with more freedom, removing the pressures of being included in evaluations. It also overturned the ban on the marriage of female diplomats.  Read more

Diplomatic Insecurity: The State Department Leaves the U.S. Embassy in Morocco in Peril

Threats against embassies are an ongoing concern that heads of mission, especially in certain parts of the world like the Middle East, must contend with on an ongoing basis. In the post-9/11 world, the State Department has been proactive in building bomb-resistant embassies, beefing up security along the perimeter, and taking steps to ensure the safety of those who work within embassy walls. However, it has not always been so. Joan Plaisted, who served as Chargé at Embassy Rabat from 1991-94, recalls her experience when she learned of a credible threat from Hezbollah to detonate a car bomb on embassy grounds. While the Moroccan government was very helpful, back in Washington D.C., the Bureau of Diplomatic Security was less so. Read more

“Our Man is Inside” — The U.S. Ambassador, Kidnapped at a Reception

In Latin America, the mid to late 20th Century was a time characterized by military governments, guerrilla movements, and intense political turmoil — which often led to intense political drama. On February 27, 1980, the Colombian socialist guerrilla group known as the April 19th Movement, or M-19, burst into the Dominican Embassy in Bogota during a reception celebrating Dominican Independence Day and took dozens of people hostage, including several ambassadors. One of those was Diego Asencio, the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia. The crisis lasted 61 days, until April 27, when the captors agreed to release the hostages in exchange for (a much reduced) ransom and a flight to Havana.

Asencio, who served in Bogota from 1977 to 1980, recounts the dramatic events surrounding his capture; how he negotiated with the kidnappers and was able to moderate their demands; life inside the Dominican Embassy, including some tensions with other detainees over a case of champagne, and the “ambassadorial seminars” held with their captors; and his role as a symbol for the State Department following his release. Read more