A pioneer of German diplomacy

The Ellinor-von-Puttkamer-Saal at the Federal Foreign Office

The Ellinor-von-Puttkamer-Saal at the Federal Foreign Office, © Federal Foreign Office

01.10.2020 - Article

Ellinor von Puttkamer became the first female Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1969. She thus paved the way for a foreign policy based on equal rights in which diplomacy is not a “man’s world”. The official name of a room at the Foreign Office now stands as a tribute to her success.

The first female Ambassador of the Federal Republic was a new departure for German foreign policy in 1969. The “Bild-Zeitung” newspaper was evidently astonished at the time, running with the headline “Woman becomes German Ambassador!” Today, the appointment of women to leading positions at missions abroad is nothing out of the ordinary.

Ellinor von Puttkamer, first female Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany
Ellinor von Puttkamer, first female Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany© Press and Information Office of the Federal Government

Prof. Ellinor von Puttkamer was appointed Ambassador in February 1969 and served as Head of the Permanent Representation to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg until 1973. Prior to that, she had headed the United Nations and international worldwide organisations division for nine years.

This path was closed to women for many years. From 1950 onwards, when for the first time in the history of the Federal Foreign Office a woman was admitted to the training course of the higher service, this state of affairs began gradually to change. Initially, only a handful of women diplomats travelled the world in the service of the Federal Republic of Germany, but their number continued to increase as the years went by. While the proportion of women among new recruits was barely six percent in 1980, it successively increased over the years, finally reaching 55 percent in 2019/2020. The GDR was quicker to install its first female Ambassador in the person of Aenne Kundermann, who was appointed in Sofia back in 1950.

Room name as a tribute

Inauguration of the Ellinor-von-Puttkamer-Saal
Inauguration of the Ellinor-von-Puttkamer-Saal© Federal Foreign Office

On 1 October, Ellinor von Puttkamer once again made a little bit of history at the Federal Foreign Office when one of its rooms was named after her. Von Puttkamer thus joins the ranks of the figures of German foreign policy who continue to make their presence felt in this way at the Federal Foreign Office to this day. The previous namesakes of rooms such as Willy Brandt and Konrad Adenauer were all men.

At the ceremony on 1 October, held before a small audience due to the pandemic, Minister of State Roth paid tribute to the achievements and the long journey that the Federal Foreign Office has come since its foundation in 1870 and since its training programme was opened up.

Focus on equality as a goal

The objective of personnel policy at the Federal Foreign Office is gender equality. Minister of State Roth had the following to say in this regard:

It goes without saying that diplomacy and foreign policy is not only the preserve of a whole host of men, but also of very many committed women.

Even though gender parity is now often achieved in terms of recruitment, there is still room for improvement at the Federal Foreign Office. The focus is also on equality in management positions. After all, current attitudes will only have an impact on these positions years down the line. For example, only one in five management positions at German missions abroad have been filled by a woman to date – this must change in the future!

It is also important to keep up with the times and to keep on adapting to people’s needs. A major issue is the ability to combine work and family life. The Foreign Service has expanded the scope for job sharing, part-time work and flexible working hours. Since the summer of this year, a German Embassy, in Ljubljana (Slovenia), has also been running a job-sharing scheme for the position of ambassador for the first time. In addition, new models also facilitate more flexible working from home.


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