We had the pleasure of interviewing Siham Soulaimani, Legal Counsellor and Diplomat at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She discussed with us her views on diplomacy in a post-pandemic world, the challenges of diversity and inclusion, and the value of connecting with women from different careers and backgrounds through networks such as WIL Europe.
Since 2017, you work at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. What reasons made you choose this path?
As a European jurist, I had my first experience in the diplomatic field through European institutions, in particular during my internship in the European Court of Justice and my one-year experience in The Hague. I quickly understood I wanted to become a civil servant and represent my country at an international level.
Working in a multicultural and cosmopolitan environment, carrying the voice of my country, and having an impact on transnational issues have led me to choose this career.
As Board Member of the association La Cordée, what do you think is the main problem that needs to be fixed in order to achieve more diversity and equal opportunity in the public service?
In the past months, the question of more diversity, equality, and inclusion in France has been in the center of the debate. Both the public and private sectors face the challenges of inclusion and representativeness of translation.
Despite its principles and the development of measures on these themes, the public sector has still not managed to obtain concrete results: the example of equality is relevant: the trend that senior positions are reserved for the male elite. Our society tends to think of men as a legitimate source of authority. After years of continuous professional learning and teachings, the situation is certainly evolving but unfortunately not as quickly as it should. An example that we can find in practice nowadays in many institutions and companies is the existence of pools of experts.
The pool of experts consists of people from different backgrounds while achieving the diversity of genders, regions, academic background and disciplines and in this way you create a diverse balance of candidates.
Awareness seems to be emerging and I think that to really change things, there are first of all the psychological barriers of the actors that must be removed. For example, we have to question the recruitment criteria and profiles sought by the public sector: we have to recruit talents who are representative of our society.
We have to recruit talents who are representative of our society.
What challenges did you encounter during your career in terms of gender inequalities and lack of diversity and how did you overcome them? Did you have any role models or figures that inspired you to pursue your career?
I was never directly confronted with anti-feminist or anti-diversity discourse. However, indirectly I did face some situations in which I felt that I was not treated like my colleagues equally when yet I had the same qualification and experiences.
An example from such indirect confrontation was that I received excuses for not inviting me for important meetings or that I was expected to argue more to make an objective statement. In both situations, I felt excluded and I learned from my experiences for instance to be more proactive in asking to be associated in all the meetings, as I believe that this is a way to tackle issues of inclusion.
I have been fortunate to meet several women who have somehow motivated, helped, or inspired me. My role models are the women I met during my professional experiences: my colleagues in the administration, volunteers during my associative activities, former mentors, or even the women whom we have the opportunity to meet during events organized by the WIL for the talent pool program.
They inspire me with their determination, personality, expertise, and organizational skills. These women showed me that it is possible to lead a good career while having a rich personal life. With their different approach, they allowed me to learn and to think about my own career and the path I want to take in the future.
How has your experience with WIL inspired and encouraged you to create more opportunities for yourself and future women in your field?
Being in a program among women who are inspiring, experienced and have a genuine interest in giving advice has been helpful and refreshing. Working in the public sector, the WTP program gave me the opportunity to meet women with different careers, backgrounds, or approaches.
I never had this kind of opportunity before and I feel fortunate to be surrounded by positive energy.
I believe deeply in the concept of role model. As a volunteer, I already tried to connect people to help them fulfill their goals and to coach others to enter the public sector. It's a long-term job but the results are worth it. In a sense, it is to give back what I have been given.
What skills are the most useful in your professional life and which were the most needed for your success?
The main qualities required in my profession are certainly thoroughness and the ability to adapt to different situations. This calls for being proactive and having a capacity for rapid analysis of issues and challenges. In order to be a good diplomat, you must also have a taste for diversity and project yourself into other cultures to understand them.
I think that being able to adapt has been my strength throughout the years. On a personal and professional level, I had the chance to experience different working environments, with different expectations and a renewed positioning. Each time, the beginnings represented a challenge, but learning strengthened my ability to be agile and to adjust.
How do you think diplomacy and international relations will be affected by the covid-19 pandemic?
Beyond the current situation, diplomacy has in recent years evolved by its means and its dimension. Immediacy has taken a prominent place in bilateral and multilateral relations thanks mostly to technologies, which led to adapt to a new tempo and learn to react to new emergencies.
Regarding global crises, they affect diplomatic relations because by their nature they question our system and the way it is run. Just like the crisis in 2008, the current crisis has revealed new fragilities and has been surprising.
In the short term, the covid-19 crisis has been indicative of certain underlying trends, exposing new ruptures and defining new challenges. In the future, the biggest challenge in international relations will be to adapt to the aftermath of consequences.
But in the long term, the new lines drawn after the crisis could prove to be only the continuity of current diplomatic relations with different intervention methods and tools.
In the short term, the covid-19 crisis has been indicative
of certain underlying trends, exposing new ruptures and defining new challenges.
What is your personal motto?
Be true to yourself. My experiences taught me that to meet the challenges you need to be passionate and work hard. I have learned that despite your best efforts sometimes you will never be what people expect. But your difference can become your strength, it depends just on how you present it to the others.
Your difference can become your strength,
it depends just on how you present it to the others.