“Best way of knowing a country is to listen to people around you and try to understand them better; this why I think networking is very crucial for a diplomat”
by H.E. Charlotta Schlyter
What does it mean to be an ambassador to a country?
In my case, it means that I represent my country, Sweden, in Bangladesh. It also means that I lead the Swedish embassy team which is responsible for bolstering the bilateral relationship we have with Bangladesh in the area of the development corporation, trade and commerce and other sociocultural collaborations.
So you graduated from the University of Stockholm and studied law at the Uppsala University, what intrigued you to pursue diplomacy?
I completed my Master’s degree in Law from Uppsala University, where I studied from 1985 to 1989. In addition to that, I also have a masters degree in law from the University of Toronto. I think what made me pursue diplomacy was my interest in international law and more specifically, human rights. My interest in the United Nations also helped choose the path of diplomacy. Before joining the Swedish Foreign Ministry in 1997, I have worked with the UN for five years in various capacities. I believe in the agreements that countries have made together at the UN to respect and promote human rights. It is an excellent way of creating stable and peaceful societies. So I thought that working in diplomacy in an international arena would allow me to work on human rights issues. And after building a career in diplomacy, it has in fact, given me a chance to work on the same topic. I have been working on human rights issues both at the Ministry in Stockholm when I was posted home and at our Mission at the UN in New York. I find that wherever I have been in the world, human rights are always an important issue which needs to be addressed. Having said that, I also work on different issues pertaining to the bilateral relationship between the two countries. I think you have to be driven by both what you believe in and by the curiosity towards other countries.
“TRUST YOUR ABILITIES. SEEK ADVICE FROM PEOPLE WHOSE JUDGEMENT YOU TRUST, WHETHER THEY ARE A MAN OR A WOMAN. TAKE EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO BECOME A GOOD PUBLIC SPEAKER”
For a diplomat, networking is a crucial indicator of upward career mobility, what’s your opinion on that?
Networking is vital in any organisation you work in. But as a diplomat, I believe that external networking is much more critical. Because to be an efficient diplomat, you have to be able to establish and maintain communication with representatives from many different institutions and people from all walks of life. The best way of knowing a country is to listen to people around you and try to understand them better; this why I think networking is very crucial for a diplomat.
A diplomat must possess advanced negotiation skills. What has helped you to enrich that skill throughout your career?
Negotiation skill is indeed an essential asset. This asset was very important for me, particularly during my years of serving at the European Union Delegation to the United Nations in New York. Being an EU country, we are big believers in the EU. The EU works with the UN to advance and promote several issues, including human rights. In that context, I find that negotiation skills are very important.
How is the Sweden embassy assisting Bangladesh in advancing gender equality and human rights?
Gender Equality is fundamental to our foreign policy. A few years back, Sweden introduced a feminist foreign policy which means that we put gender equality upfront for anything that we do. This also means that it is an essential focus on what we are doing in Bangladesh, and I find much interest in gender equality here. There are lots of people working on it and who want to do more about gender equality in Bangladesh. Good work is being done, and more discussions are now being held to prevent violence against women. In our development programs, gender equality comes at every front. For example, we are providing support in the training midwives for sexual and reproductive health rights. We prioritise women’s role in crisis prevention whenever there is a natural calamity.
Are there any programs from the Embassy of Sweden which focuses on financial inclusion and creating opportunities for women entrepreneurs?
We have been working with several civil society organization for creating opportunities for women. For example, we support a program which emphasises on innovative ways to help women enhance their skills to turn their business into an enterprise. The program consists of developing management skills, raising and managing funds on which they can build their business furthermore. We have also been working with the ILO. The UN is supporting programs like training women in the textile industry to take on more skilled jobs.
Aspiring female diplomats for many years were met with one all too familiar ultimatum- family or career- choose only one. Have you ever met such a warning?
I have been fortunate. My husband and I have generally been able to find work and postings in the same countries. This helped us to live together as a family when my children were growing up. But it is indeed a challenge for women. Nowadays, it has been made easier in Sweden because of the availability of parental leave for both men and women. I also believe that having access to affordable quality childcare is very important. If I look at my generation, it was probably easier to find a balance between family and work than in the past. But then again, as a diplomat, it is always difficult whether you’re a man or a woman to maintain that balance.
What advice would you give to young females who are aspiring to build a career in diplomacy?
Trust your abilities. Seek advice from people whose judgement you trust, whether they are a man or a woman. Take every opportunity to become a good public speaker; it helps you in all the roles of diplomacy.