January 15, 2021

"We suffer the imposter syndrome" | Society

"We suffer the imposter syndrome" | Society

When Aurora Díaz-Rato began her career in 1983, she found that the long and majestic corridors of the Santa Cruz Palace, headquarters of the Foreign Ministry, were not designed for women. In the plant where he had to perform his duties there was not a single ladies' room. Pregnant and with frequent nausea, she rushed to the stairs to access another floor whenever she needed a sink. Almost 40 years later, this diplomat, now Spanish ambassador to Switzerland, admits that at least the existence of bathrooms – not so much that of women – has improved. The Spanish diplomatic corps, in charge of representing the country's interests abroad, barely has 25% women. When climbing to the highest level, that of ambassador, the presence is reduced to 15%. In 2005 it was just 6%.

Weary of the inertia that perpetuates these disparities, a group of women belonging to this select body of the State has launched the Association of Diplomatic Women of Spain to defend the presence and contribution of these professionals to the demanding external work. "The issue of number is not an end in itself. It is about giving a true gender focus and establishing the bases of diversity in this area ", argues Clara Girbau, ambassador highlighted by the Foreign Ministry to promote equality and conciliation.

The association, which previously functioned as a platform, faces a first internal challenge: to achieve the adhesion of all professionals. Currently around 60% participate. Angeles Moreno, undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – third position in the hierarchy of this department – admits that some women are suspicious of a possible political bias in the movement or reject the denomination of feminist in a traditionally conservative body. Moreno clarifies: "He is absolutely professional. We try to fight against the idea that the one that is worth arrives and the one that does not, does not do it. Because it is not true, "he emphasizes. Despite having started the race much later than his partner in Switzerland, Moreno also experienced some uninspiring episodes. "My first destination was in Moscow, at 26 years old. I remember a meal of senior officials where I was the only woman. I did not exist during the whole meal, "he explains in an elegant office of the ministry where the three diplomats receive EL PAÍS. Today he directs the common Foreign Services.

Beyond the anecdotes, some data easily dismantle that traditional saying about value as the only element that determines success. The first Spanish woman to join the diplomatic corps, Margarita Salaverría, did it in 1933, in the Republican period. The milestone was soon reversed. The Franco dictatorship expressly prohibited the presence of women, something that was only corrected in the death throes of the regime: in 1971 Maria Rosa Boceta entered the race. Today, however, the figures of presentation to oppositions are quite equal. But when you reach promotions, reality falters. Starting with the women's initiative itself. The last internal call to fill posts of ambassador has reaped a marked gap between candidates: 18 women against 103 men. They are places of great professional attraction, in territories such as Europe Latin America and Australia.

The others are worth more

The reasons why women are discouraged when applying are diverse. "We tend to suffer from the impostor syndrome: to believe that there are always others who are worth much more than us. We have to fight against that by going to schools and universities to explain our work. That we are not the ones that put us down ", argues Diaz-Rato, who acts as vice president of the professional association. Girbau adds a always thorny factor because it is dangerously linked to the gender debate: work and family conciliation: "Many women do not dare because of the difficulty in combining both facets."

To mitigate this obstacle, the undersecretary promotes a cultural change that translates into working methods. "You have to change the presentism Spanish. That is why in the ministry we are working to introduce the analysis of the work by objectives. Because in our profession it is about achieving concrete things, "he explains.

The association of diplomatic It wants to resemble others that have already worked in the developed world. Italy, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the European diplomatic service or Canada, to give some examples, have similar initiatives to promote the presence of women in the great international negotiation rooms. Díaz-Rato draws on his Swiss experience to cite an example of policies with impact. The authorities of that country normally elect ambassadors for countries such as Saudi Arabia or Iran, where female discrimination affects all areas of life. For starters, perhaps Spanish diplomats would be enough to make it clear that an ambassador is not, as the dictionary of the RAE says in its fourth meaning, the wife of the ambassador.

The conciliation rules remain in the inkwell

The head of equality and the undersecretary of the ministry have worked fast in recent months to bring to light a new regulation of operation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The text includes significant changes, with a "great conciliation component", explains Clara Girbau, appointed to promote this type of policy in the department. The text includes the evaluation of the staff by objectives and not by hours, the use of inclusive language and the modification of some requirements to advance in the diplomatic career (for example, the minimum age of professional career is lowered to ascend to positions highlighted in missions outside, which eliminates obstacles added to women).

The advance of the general elections has caused that all this work is in the inkwell. Ángeles Moreno trusts that it will be easy to resume, whatever the next government may be. Because the impulse of feminism forces all parties to take care of those policies.


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