Luxembourg-based international professional women's association The NETWORK teamed up with the Luxembourg Ladies Ambassadors Club (LLAC) for a roundtable discussion on "Advancing Female Leadership" on Wednesday evening.
This fully-booked, free event, held at Foyer Européen in Luxembourg-Gare, brought together dozens of women (although men were also welcome to attend) for an engaging roundtable, moderated by The NETWORK's former Communications Director LaTasha Baker.
The evening began with an introduction by Mariana Florea, President of The NETWORK, who thanked her Board members and recalled that volunteers are always welcome, followed by short pitches by members of the audience. LUkraine asbl Vice President Inna Yaremenko presented her non-profit organisation's new project to drill ten wells in southern Ukraine, to ensure sustainable access to water following the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam.
In the roundtable discussion, the following panellists shared their personal journeys in the traditionally male-dominated worlds of politics, diplomacy and defence: Anne Calteux, Head of the Representation of the European Commission in Luxembourg; Fleur Thomas, Ambassador to Luxembourg for Great Britain and Northern Ireland; Alexandrina-Livia Rusu, Ambassador of Romania to Luxembourg; Claire Lignières-Counathe, Ambassador of France to Luxembourg.
Among those present in the audience were several other female ambassadors, namely the Ambassador of Austria (who initiated LLAC back in 2021), the Ambassador of Germany, the Ambassador of Ireland and the Ambassador of Cape Verde.
Topics discussed during the roundtable included gender inclusivity at the EU level, with Anne Calteux giving an overview of the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025. She cited some of the binding instruments and targets being put in place, for example quotas on corporate boards and a directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence, but added that it would take time for these initiatives "to make an impact". She noted that it was important to start early, for example raising children's awareness of gender stereotypes, to achieve this paradigm shift.
The Romanian and French ambassadors each shared their own experiences as women in diplomacy. In the cases of both their countries, the situation appears to have improved over the years in terms of more women joining and, more importantly, staying in diplomacy-related careers. They discussed their respective countries' feminist diplomacy policies, with Romanian ambassadors receiving "equal pay for equal job" and Bucharest set to host an upcoming international conference dedicated to women, peace and security, and quotas in place for ambassadors and other senior-level positions in France. Both ambassadors emphasised the importance their respective countries attached to getting more countries to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention.
The British Ambassador spoke about her experience in the world of defence, where she worked prior to becoming an ambassador. She emphasised the importance of working hard and doing a good job (and recognition will follow) and having strong role models (or even being one). She added that work was still to be done around the language used on job descriptions (namely shifting away from masculine to more neutral language) and stressed the value of mentoring.
In the lively Q&A session that followed, one question centred around challenges for older women in the labour market - Anne Calteux recognised the value of tapping into a huge potential pool of older, often more experienced and skilled talent, adding that the EU was trying to get women (in general) back to the workplace through, for example, the Work-Life Balance Directive. Another question was about practical advice for aspiring women leaders; Ambassador Fleur Thomas advised the following: do your homework (be prepared) and confound expectations; "fake it til you make it"; find good mentors and ask questions or for advice when needed. Ambassador Claire Lignières-Counathe added that it was important to be open to opportunities, whilst Ambassador Alexandrina-Livia Rusu emphasised the importance of sticking to what needs to be done, even when it is difficult, in order to build something for future generations.
The panellists also shared their main career drivers, which ranged from material needs to wanting to experience other countries and cultures, having passion for and an interest in the job itself, and enjoying interacting with people. Another question touched on whether women need to behave more like men to progress in the corporate world, to which the panellists agreed on the importance of being one's "authentic self", being well prepared and confident in one's own abilities.
The event concluded with a networking reception, where the discussions continued over snacks and drinks.