Interview with the State Department’s Digital Diplomacy Strategist Lovisa Williams

Lovisa and I met for the first time at a digital diplomacy event in the Italian Embassy. Once we started talking, I knew right away that she would be a great person to feature on Fem2pt0.  Her career with the U.S. State Department is an inspiration for many women, especially those who want to be involved in the tech and/or diplomatic community.

We agreed to meet at Tabard Inn on a sunny Friday morning in November.

Lovisa started talking about her passion for technology and working for the government.

“I always knew I wanted to be in government and was interested in technology, mostly because of the fact that I saw technology as a way to promote real change in society and people. I wanted to connect people with each other. But when I was in school the only sort of technology we knew was coders and developers. Government seemed like something that the only option was to work on Capitol Hill.”

Of course, that did not dampen her enthusiasm.

tech imagePivoting away from her professional career, I asked Lovisa to talk about how she grew up and how that has affected her adult life. I found out that she grew up as a “third culture kid,” meaning that she was in a multilingual, multicultural environment and always thought of the world from a global perspective. Consequently, she wanted to find a work environment that had similar values of a global community and an understanding of what it means to be a global citizen. Starting a career at the State Department was a natural path for her. Her first job at State was in consular affairs, where she worked closely with many Mainframe programmers. That is where her passion for diplomacy and technology came together. Lovisa served in many positions since then and has contributed in the development of the Digital Diplomacy community in many ways, including creating social media policies for U.S. embassies across the world. She was also among the first board members of the Digital Diplomacy Coalition, a professional group that brings together the diplomatic, international affairs, and tech communities to share ideas and best practices to leverage digital technologies for diplomacy.

Nowadays, Lovisa works to develop the digital strategy for the State Department and promote digital diplomacy both within and outside the Department. She also works on the business side of technology. With her team, she focuses on increasing the level of engagement through digital media and tries to determine how best to translate this technology in a way that drives positive change globally.

Of course, I could not resist asking Lovisa about her experience being a woman and working in the tech field. She was open and honest with her answer.

“When I was younger there was definitely the assumption that I was the admin; the assumption was that I was only there to get notes and bring coffee,” said Lovisa.“They were definitely surprised to hear me talk about the project. When that was happening I was only 25 at the most. It is definitely getting better as I am getting older and more people know me in the field.”

Lovisa also shared with me a personal experience. On one occasion, she was told by a man that she should not talk and express her ideas. Lovisa never thought that she would experience such blatant discrimination, so it was certainly shocking to her. It was also a great learning opportunity, which helped her realize that people still feel threatened by women who are intelligent and successful. Instead of letting that discourage her, she turned the experience into a positive one by not giving the person who discriminated against her the satisfaction preventing her from speaking up.

We finished our discussion by talking about mentorship and how we can motivate more women to enter the digital world. Lovisa strongly supports real mentorship. While she does not dismiss the one-hour networking coffees, she values the idea of spending time mentoring somebody and tries to have two people to mentor every year. For her, that means committing to meeting with them a couple of times and spending time to get to know them.

“This way” she says, “I can be more effective helping them. Learning [their] ideas and giving [them] some of mine. It is mutually beneficial when we have more time with our mentor.”

Lovisa encourages women to go to as many events as they can, meet people, and ask them questions. While she recognizes that success in life can often be attributed to being in the right place at the right time, she also believes that if somebody works hard, they will succeed. She believes women should not hesitate to fight for their dreams.

 

Photo credit Scott Schopieray through Creative Commons

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