USEU Minister Counselor Virginia Murray and Women in Foreign Policy

By Madeline Bronstein, Public Affairs Intern at the US Mission to the EU

Part of being a United States Mission to the European Union (USEU) intern is having the opportunity to attend Mission events with various speakers and experts on a range of topics. The Mission is filled with capable, confident, and well-traveled diplomats, and their experiences and stories are fascinating for all audiences, especially for those who are still building their career.

In my first few weeks as the USEU Public Affairs intern, I was able to help organize and attend a discussion regarding Women in Foreign Policy featuring USEU Minister-Counselor (MC) for Political Affairs, Virginia Murray. Murray previously served as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Rangoon, Burma prior to arriving in Brussels, and her career with the State Department has taken her from Jordan and Oman in the Middle East, to Malaysia and Australia in the Asia Pacific, and to the American Presence Post in Rennes, France. Her extensive foreign policy knowledge, as well as her experiences as a woman in the Foreign Service, drew 40 attendees to an event hosted by USEU and professional development networks YPFP (Young Professionals in Foreign Policy), WIIS (Women in International Security), and Leadarise .IMG_0574


In preparation for the event, I worked with the Programs and Exchanges Unit within the USEU Public Affairs Office. I assisted in every aspect, from finalizing the event planning to highlighting the event on USEU’s Twitter page at @US2EU . Members of all three participating networks were eager to hear from MC Murray, asking her interesting questions as well as sharing thoughts in discussions following the event. Participants asked questions on the upcoming Burmese elections, how being a woman affected her professional experiences abroad, and her thoughts on the lack of women in foreign policy leadership roles. Meeting these Brussels professionals was a highlight for me; I appreciated the chance to meet other young, engaged members of the foreign policy world.

During MC Murray’s talk, she reflected on her time with the State Department. Her experiences in Burma during a time of dramatic political change were fascinating, and she listed as one of the highlights of her career, “the stature we were able to give civil society in the eyes of their own government”.

In addition to her experience abroad, MC Murray also discussed her experience as a woman working in foreign policy. “Very often, American women want to seek positions for which we are already qualified,” she said, adding that she has noticed men are more likely to apply for higher positions if they feel they deserve it. “Put yourself out there.”

The first female Foreign Service Officer (FSO) joined in 1922, passing the Foreign Service exam with the third-highest score. Progress for equal representation continued through the postwar years, and in recent years women have been entering the Foreign Service at a higher rate than men. In 2006, of the 387 new FSOs at the Foreign Service Institute, 215 were women and 172 were men. In 1997 Madeleine Albright  began her tenure as the first female Secretary of State, and in January 2005 Condoleezza Rice  became the first woman of color to hold that position.

Attendees, men and women included, had questions for Murray about how the number of women in the Foreign Service has changed, her thoughts on gender quotas, and what they can do differently in their careers. Murray encouraged the audience to be assertive and confident in their skills, and to practice speaking up. “Say, ‘I have something to contribute, and I am going to contribute’,” she urged.

Following the event, we hosted a reception for the event attendees and MC Murray, and everyone appreciated the chance to meet her and thank her for sharing her thoughts and experiences.

We received positive feedback from all three of the participating organizations, saying their members enjoyed the event and found it an enriching experience to interact directly with a Senior United States Diplomat. As my first event, I certainly consider it a success, and look forward to more events here at USEU!

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