The United States Mission to the European Union and the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) hosted a global conversation on “Breaking Barriers – Strategies to Succeed in Public Service” in Brussels on October 2nd, 2012. The voices of women’s leadership represented on the panel include Ambassador Anna-Karin Eneström, Sweden's Representative to the Political and Security Committee at the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the EU, Dr. Franziska Brantner EU Parliamentarian, and Susannah Wellford Shakow, Esq, Chair of the Board and founder of Running Start. The conversation focused on barriers to entry and advancement for women in leadership positions within government and the public sector. This unique panel spoke to national, regional, cultural and societal factors that contribute to the significant under-representation of women’s voices in governments and public bodies throughout both the United States and the European Union.

European countries vary widely in terms of female representation in national governing bodies and female heads of state. Germany and Belgium have comparatively high numbers for women in national congress or parliament--reaching as high as 40.8% in the past five years--while the United Kingdom and Italy hover at around 20% representation. All of these numbers, like those seen in the United States, represent significant increases over previous decades. Progress is certainly something to be celebrated, but a comprehensive understanding of the phenomena encouraging and discouraging women’s political participation and gains in public leadership is a cause that the Women in Public Service Project is fervently committed to with an aim at pushing the limits of progress seen thus far.

“Breaking Barriers – Strategies to Succeed in Public Service” engaged the voices of three successful women who experienced three unique paths to leadership in public service, and the audience of both established and emerging female leaders benefited from their comparative analysis of where things stand for women in both the U.S. and EU systems today. The U.S. and the majority of EU countries have a legacy of underwhelming gender equity levels as well as insufficient policy measures to encourage meaningful progress. Both the U.S. and the EU are interested in achieving gender parity for women in public life, and this panel informed a U.S. and EU cultural, political, and societal exchange on this deeply important issue. International engagement and understanding concerning gender parity should be an imperative for all countries, and the host organizations will actively facilitate this exchange beginning with this panel and expanding with a mentoring network of women in Brussels.

“Breaking Barriers – Strategies to Succeed in Public Service” was an opportunity for established female leaders to reach out to those emerging within their fields, and hopefully provide the foundation for a network in Brussels to continuously connect women who can help each other-- and ultimately their global community.

The Women in Public Service Project is convening a series of global conversations to ensure that we are educating and training a new generation of women to enter the public sector with the strategic leadership skills, energy, and commitment required to tackle today’s global challenges. The Women in Public Service Project was thrilled to host a global conversation in Brussels, and develop a network to connect established and emerging leaders in the capital of Europe.