Former U.S. State Department diplomat and Pepperdine School of Law professor, Colleen Graffy moderated a conversation with the Finnish Consul General of Los Angeles Kirsti Westphalen on public diplomacy, international relations and women in government service. The February visit stemmed from an invitation from the Women in Public Policy group at Pepperdine's School of Public Policy where Graffy is currently teaching a course in "Public Diplomacy in a Global Context."
Consul General Westphalen spoke candidly to students about her role as a liaison between her home country and the western United States. She began her hour-long discussion with facts about Finland, with a specific focus on the role of women in the country. Westphalen noted that women in Finland began voting and running as candidates for political office in 1907. Women make up 40 percent of the Finnish Parliament, as opposed to 17 percent in the United States, and Finland elected their first female president, Tarja Halonen, in 2000. She served until 2012.
Westphalen also addressed Finland's educational system, stating that statistically women are better educated than men, but continue to earn $0.86 to every $1 a man earns. Despite the latter she noted that, "Women have really made it. We are seeing young, dynamic women coming through."
Westphalen discussed her career and the years she spent travelling the world, including living in the Middle East.
"I wanted to try life in the Arab world," she said, "where there is a lack of political freedoms among women."
Westphalen acknowledged the difficulties associated with assimilating into a unique culture, however she noted that, "the most difficult postings have been the most interesting ones."
Westphalen advised students to extend themselves, noting that women should not be influenced by negativity.
"I was most impressed by Consul General Westphalen's work ethic, confidence and breadth of information," said Kati Koster, president of Women in Public Policy. "She is a true example of a great female leader, she has done so much. I appreciated her call to action and strength toward women, and that she actively mentors and encourages the women in her office."
"Many Pepperdine students are interested in a career in government service so to hear from the Consul General about her path to entering into the diplomatic corps was helpful," said Graffy, who additionally teaches international law in Pepperdine's London Program where she is the academic director and director of global programs. "For the females in the audience, it was particularly inspiring to see a successful woman in this traditionally male-dominated profession.