For the first time ever, Norway’s foreign ministry has named more women than men to head the country’s embassies and general consulates around the world. All the chiefs of Norway’s foreign missions are assembled in Oslo this week for the ministry’s annual gathering of the diplomatic troops.
Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide of the Labour Party and the minister in charge of foreign aid, Heikki Holmås of the Socialist Left party (SV), are so proud of all their top women diplomats that they invited them all to lunch on Monday, reported newspaper Dagsavisen.
“Both Espen and I have made a conscious effort to boost equality and make it easier for women to take their husbands and families abroad in such jobs,” Holmås told Dagsavisen. Men have done that for years, with their wives and families dutifully following them to overseas postings, but it’s been harder for women to get the same sort of spousal and family support.
“It’s critical that everyone, also the spouses, thrive when they’re stationed abroad,” said Heidi Olufsen, a mother of four who has been named Norway’s general consul in St Petersburg. Her children are now older and have their own broad international networks after earlier stints abroad, she said. Olufsen’s lawyer husband will now commute between Oslo and St Petersburg.
Hege Hertzberg, who will become Norway’s ambassador in Ghana, told Dagsavisen that she insisted her husband accept her job and join her abroad before they married. She admitted that some diplomat husbands have a hard time defining their role, and that there’s more acceptance in Norway than in many other countries that men can mind the homefront.
Important for Norway’s egalitarian image
Norway’s efforts to champion equality at home make it important for the country to have so many women ambassadors and general consuls abroad, according to Holmås and Eide.
“Today, 55 percent of the ministry’s underdirectors are women and 45 percent of the divisional directors are women,” Eide told Dagsavisen. “That means we have qualified women who can apply for the top jobs.” He still faces challenges, though, in getting women to apply for ambassador and general consulate posts.
“The formal glass ceiling in diplomacy has shattered,” Eide said. “But men and women still think differently, and more men apply for these jobs than women.” Hertzberg noted that “we don’t want to impose quotas on ambassador or consulate posts, “but women can gladly be encouraged to apply.”
The ranks of women ambassadors have also increased in other countries, not just Norway, “but often these jobs are tied to the women coming from the upper classes,” said Sissel Breie, who’s about to take over as Norway’s ambassador in Jordan. Breie, who formerly was Norway’s ambassador in Argentina, said that it was her driver there who had the biggest problem accepting her as the boss.