The Diplomatic Glass Cliff: Women’s Representation and Diplomacy’s Decline

Author/editor: Dr Elise Stephenson
Published in (Monograph or Journal): The Hague Journal of Diplomacy
Year published: 2022
Issue no.: 27 July 2022


For the first time in history, women in Australian diplomacy have equal or near-equal representation in leadership whilst the institution they represent is shrinking — in funding, footprint and status. Even if simply a natural shift in policy priorities, this diplomatic ‘glass cliff’ has specifically gendered effects. Indeed, ‘hard’ militaristic agencies — where funding and prestige flow — remain pockets of gender resistance in Australian international affairs. This article employs a combination of qualitative interview analysis as well as quantitative longitudinal data on gender representation and agency funding across four case agencies to argue that women are gaining positions of diplomatic leadership just as diplomacy’s relative power, influence and funding decreases. It contributes to women’s leadership research in finding that women’s increased opportunities in leadership are therefore constrained by the declining status or shrinking nature of the institution to which they are gaining access.

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