In 1973, she joined the Foreign Service. Diplomats, she says, are the face of the United States in many countries. But at that time, the agency was working to promote a more equal representation of its female recruits. "The Foreign Service, like every other group, suffered for a long, long time," says Marilyn McAfee, a former co-worker who retired from the agency in 1998. "But to the state department's credit, it took action to redress that in a very positive way for minorities and women."
Policies that hampered women, including a rule that required them to step down if they married, were changed. Now, the Foreign Service provides ample opportunity for women, women of color, and Hispanics, says Ms. Suro-Bredie.
"In many respects I have been, and others of my generation have been, beneficiaries of lots of serious legal interaction and other efforts by women to gain opportunity," she says.
Married for 30 years, Ms. Suro-Bredie credits her family and her husband, a Dutch auditor at the World Bank, for their support. But most of all it was the commitment she learned from her parents that has kept her going, even after giving birth to two sons. "My father deeply believed in public service and that there were no boundaries as long as you worked very hard and had a good education," she says.
Although she has helped formulate policy in some groundbreaking international pacts, Ms. Suro-Bredie's current role is closer to home. As assistant U.S. trade representative for policy coordination, she's responsible for pulling together the trade and investment disposition of some 20 government agencies, including the Department of Commerce, the Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Each agency, she says, has its own particular culture that must be understood. Her goal is to come up with a combined policy for all the agencies, though each represents different aspects. Throughout the negotiation process, she strives to understand the other person's point of view and interest. The information gained by the interagency process is used to negotiate with foreign governments, she says.
Ms. Suro-Bredie's role is like "trying to get General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler to all agree on the same policy," says Polly Coreth, a co-worker and special assistant to the deputy U.S. trade representative. "But Carmen does it without anyone having hard feelings."
As a Hispanic woman, Ms. Suro-Bredie says she believes it is important to set goals and learn to be flexible. During her last assignment in the Foreign Service, she was in Paris and noticed that all the French diplomats had a background in business as well as government. So, in 1979, she took a leave of absence and attended Harvard business school. The endeavor meant losing two years of salary plus having to pay tuition. But Ms. Suro-Bredie felt that she would gain analytical skills that would aid in forming public policy. "This proved to be true," she says now. "The interaction between government and business proved true."
The next frontier for Ms. Suro-Bredie may lie in the Middle East. The lessons that she learned during the Ireland peace talks could be used to bring women into the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. However, the idea is still being researched, she says. "My experience in Northern Ireland is that women are natural negotiators," Ms. Suro-Bredie says. "And their commitment to the peace process is important. It ensures a much more democratic agreement because it integrates half of the population into the process."
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