Women in the Trenches: Diplomacy Alumnae Share Insiders’ View
By Felipe Bueno
The Women of Diplomacy Leadership Program hosted a panel discussion with alumnae on November 2. The panelists were Maura Kolkmeyer ‘12, the founder and CEO of Sitterly and a freelance brand consultant, Sarah Husseini MA ‘12, an elections officer at the Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations, and Chanell Hasty MA ‘07, the founder and president of Fashion Redefining Justice. WDLP’s adviser, Elizabeth Halpin, associate dean of external affairs at the School of Diplomacy, moderated the panel.
Ms. Kolkmeyer recounted her time at Seton Hall, during which she started a website called Seton Sitters, a platform for connecting potential babysitters with local families. While Seton Sitters began without the intention of growing into something larger, it allowed Kolkmeyer to foster relationships that helped her find internships, and eventually grew into Sitterly.com, a portmanteau of the words sitter and family. After graduating with a double major in Diplomacy and Economics and a minor in Spanish, Kolkmeyer began working for Booz Allen Hamilton, where she became a senior consultant providing support to the United States Air Force, a position she ultimately left to pursue entrepreneurship further.
Sarah Husseini’s career with the Saudi Mission began when she cold-called the Mission to ask if they had any openings for an internship. Needless to say, her gutsy decision landed her the internship, where she continued to intern through college and was offered a position after graduation. Husseini has had the unique experience of both implementing peacekeeping operations and traveling to the field to see her work firsthand. She currently works as an elections officer, designing and implementing campaigns for Saudi Arabia to win membership in multilateral international agencies; most recently, she played a role in Saudi Arabia’s election to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Chanell Hasty’s professional history has been one of prolific relocation. Originally from Brooklyn, Hasty’s career took her from Boston to Guatemala for the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala, then to Washington, D.C. for an internship with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health. Finally, she returned to Brooklyn, where she founded Fashion Redefining Justice, an NGO that provides livelihood and skills training in the fashion industry to young girls.
A common theme of the evening was the challenge of being the only woman in a room, and the skills that help in those situations. Kolkmeyer recounted sitting in rooms with male Air Force generals who had their own interests to protect. Her advice was to “play the part,” stand up straight, dress appropriately, and create an environment of upmost confidence. “When your inner voice whispers, ‘What are you doing here?’ as it inevitably does, recognize its existence but do not let it control you,” she said. “Always sit at the table,” she advised the audience. “And if you are asked to move, it is not a big deal.”
Husseini said she sometimes feels out of place in a patriarchal work environment. As the Saudi ambassador to the United Nations assured her: Sometimes comments will be made, and if they make you feel uncomfortable, confront the person who made them, but always remember that if you were not qualified you would not have gotten the position. Husseini placed great emphasis on looking the part, and on making sure that you believe you belong because if you do not, no one else will. Most important, instead of trying to confront the patriarchal system as a whole, she advised breaking down barriers on an interpersonal level.
Kolkmeyer added that being a woman in the workplace also has its advantages, something that is not often discussed. “People are more likely to talk to you and make conversation,” she said.
The panelists concluded by emphasizing the need to empower other women. Hasty reminded the students present that “All women and girls deserve to know their value in life, and if you get the opportunity to remind them of it, you should take it.”