Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas for the inauguration of the portrait and mirror gallery Federal Foreign Office: Many First Women – to this Day

22.11.2021 - Speech

It was 1969 when the BILD newspaper ran the story of Germany’s first woman ambassador under a headline using the masculine form for “ambassador”: “Eine Frau wird deutscher Botschafter”. It is doubtless still the case that some people in the media and in politics have trouble including the feminine form of such nouns. But in the end, “deutsche Botschafterin”, female German ambassador, has made it into everyday usage.

The history of the Federal Foreign Office is full of stories like that of Germany’s first female ambassador, Ellinor von Puttkamer: stories of women who, with commitment, determination and a great deal of pioneering spirit, conquered previously male domains for themselves.

This portrait gallery is dedicated to all of them. And there are a great number of galleries in this building. You can hardly walk for any distance without finding yourself in one. The one that we are inaugurating today is something very special – inspired by the Mirror Challenge at the UK Foreign Office.

Under the heading Federal Foreign Office: Many First Women – to this Day, we have portraits here of colleagues in all career strands who were the first women to work in positions previously held exclusively by men. They represent all our female colleagues who deserve recognition but whose portraits cannot be included for lack of space.

These pioneers paved the way for other women, including the first women to break through to the top executive echelons at the Federal Foreign Office, who are also honoured in this portrait gallery: our first female heads of administration at high-profile embassies, the first female heads of mission at those embassies and our first female directors-general. And on their way to those top-flight posts, they had to overcome far too many obstacles: Prejudice. Gender stereotyping. Role expectations.

There can be few other fields where the classic role models are as deep-rooted as they are in foreign and security policy, a profession whose image was very male-centric for a long time.

That is why I am also delighted that we are not just among ourselves today but have with us a Member of the German Bundestag. Agnieszka, let me say how very happy I am that you are here. We have spent a lot of time together in recent weeks. What we are trying to express here is that drafting programmes and agreements is one thing, but actually putting those things into practice, and sometimes setting a prominent example, is particularly important. It is therefore very nice that you are here representing the Bundestag.

We are proud to have these women as faces of our foreign policy today. They help shape it, and at the same time they serve as role models – encouraging young women to apply for jobs at the Federal Foreign Office and pursue careers here.

We have evidently achieved a lot in the last four years:

• In the higher intermediate service, the proportion of women in managerial roles rose by 10% and is now, for the first time in Foreign Office history, above 50%.

• While only a fifth of our missions abroad were headed by women in 2016, their share has at least now increased to almost a quarter.

• However, the largest improvement we achieved was in the proportion of executive positions held by women at headquarters: among directors-general and commissioners, women made up about 20% in 2016, rising to 50% today. We have thus achieved gender parity in the most important positions of leadership in the Foreign Office for the first time – albeit after 150 years.

This is, of course, no reason to rest on our laurels. That much is abundantly clear from the mirrors hanging on the wall here. These 21 mirrors symbolise all those positions in the Federal Foreign Office that have never been occupied by a woman.

We want to replace the mirrors on this wall with portraits as quickly as possible.

The fifth FFO Gender Equality Plan, which sets the gender equality policy of the Federal Foreign Office for the coming years and will be published tomorrow, includes successively increasing the proportion of women in management positions in order to reach gender parity in all such positions in the long term. To that end, we want to encourage our young female colleagues to pursue managerial roles. And that is why the mirrors are hanging here – to impart a vision to young women who pass by and see their own faces in them: a vision that says, “It’s up to me; I too can be a pioneer.”

The Gender Equality Plan stipulates that a good balance of women and men be sought in all areas. And I am glad to be able to announce that the Federal Foreign Office is going to join Initiative Klischeefrei, an initiative to promote freedom from common stereotypes about gender roles in people’s choice of career.

I would like to take this opportunity to extend a very warm welcome to Mr Diaz from Initiative Klischeefrei, who is here with us today. Gender equality means enabling everybody to live the life they choose and especially to determine their own choice of career, free from gender stereotypes and traditional role expectations.

Part of that is not only that women can pursue careers as a matter of course but also that men can take care of their children and parents just as uncontroversially as women. That is why the Gender Equality Plan also involves continuing to promote the compatibility of paid employment with family and caring responsibilities and encouraging men to take parental leave and work part-time.

In 1958, Ellinor von Puttkamer’s line manager was still writing in her appraisal that she possessed “quite masculine powers of reason”. And I’m afraid he meant it as a compliment. It is even probable that it had a positive effect on her career progression. Fortunately, however, we have moved on somewhat in that respect. Times have changed – so much so, in fact, that half the country wondered this year whether a man could be Federal Chancellor.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We know today that there can be no good policy, and no good foreign policy, that excludes half of the human race. The more diverse our teams are, the better the results we achieve. These mirrors are therefore also symbolic of the fact that this organisation and the people who work here should always be a reflection of our society.

After all, equality does not end with gender equality. We need colleagues of different religions, social backgrounds, sexual orientations, colleagues from the East and from the West. And that is why this gallery is not to be seen as a finished installation. It is alive; it is intended to invite discussion.

In future, we will be able to measure the success of our gender equality policy by how quickly the mirrors on these two walls disappear. Each new portrait will mark an increase in the diversity of our perspectives. And that is a gain for this organisation – as well as for Germany’s foreign policy.

I would like to reiterate my very sincere gratitude to Katharina Stasch, who has worked tirelessly and persistently to ensure the success of this venture – and is still doing so in this time of transition. My warmest thanks go also, Ambassador Gallard, to our counterparts in London. There may sometimes be matters on which we do not entirely agree, but this is something where the Foreign Office in London has shown a pioneering spirit. And we gladly took that as an opportunity to join in and thereby to give ourselves a tool with which to check how the goals we want to achieve can actually be reached in the foreseeable future. Many thanks for your generous advice and assistance in that endeavour.

That’s another gallery in this building inaugurated. There are a lot of them, but I doubt any of the others is as interesting and as modern and as forward-looking as this one.

Thank you.


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