The first women to be appointed to senior-level posts: Marcelle Campana and Isabelle Renouard


Do you know when a woman became ambassador or director for the first time in France? Come and discover the answer in this joint portrait of Marcelle Campana and Isabelle Renouard.

From Suzanne to Marcelle….

After Suzanne Borel entered the French Foreign Ministry as the first female diplomat, it was another 42 years before another woman, Marcelle Campana, was appointed ambassador and 56 years before Isabelle Renouard became a director in the central administration.

Marcelle Campana was the daughter of a French diplomat who was the Consul-General of France in Sydney and London in the 1920s. She started working for the French Foreign Ministry in 1935 as a secretary and became a diplomat after the Liberation of France. She became the first woman named to posts of Consul-General in Toronto, then Ambassador to Panama in 1972.

Marcelle Campana

Isabelle Renouard was working in Canada at the same time as Marcelle Campana and described her as a woman who was “kind, direct and with a strong personality”. The two women crossed paths professionally a few times, but Isabelle Renouard remembers her above all for personal reasons. It was Marcelle Campana who recorded the birth of her daughter born in Canada on 14 February 1972.

Nothing has been written about female diplomats that could help us learn more about Marcelle Campana. As the historian Yves Denéchère explained in his article “The position and role of women in the foreign policy of contemporary France” in the political journal, Revue Vingtième siècle: “We know nothing about her career and personal causes, the circumstances of her appointment, or the reactions of the political and diplomatic world or of public opinion.”

After Marcelle Campana was appointed ambassador, the number of female ambassadors has slowly grown. There were 3 female ambassadors in 1982, 16 in 2002 and today we have 49 (out of a total of 197 on 23 February 2017).

From Marcelle to Isabelle …

After studying at Sciences Po Paris and the highly selective National School of Administration (ENA), Isabelle Renouard entered the French Foreign Ministry in 1964 and retired in 1998. She chose this career “without fully realizing what was to come”.

She started her career in the Directorate-General for Cultural Relations (which is now the Directorate-General for Global Affairs) and enjoyed being surrounded by university graduates from a world she was familiar with. Then she became the first woman from ENA to work in the Human Resources Directorate and then in Ottawa, Algiers, the Permanent Representation of France to NATO, the Eastern Europe Department, the Strategic Affairs and Disarmament Service and the Political Affairs Directorate. Isabelle Renouard was then appointed Director of French Nationals Abroad in 1986. She held this position for ten years. She finished her career as Secretary-General of Defence and National Security (SGDSN).

Illust: Isabelle Renouard, 146.7 kb, 890x607
Isabelle Renouard en tant que Secrétaire générale de la défense et sécurité nationale

Isabelle Renouard has kept a positive image of the Ministry where has had a wonderful career and a fulfilling personal life (her husband is also a diplomat). She believes that if a person has a partner, the choice of pursuing a career at the Ministry should be made together.

Following Isabelle Renouard’s appointments, women have held many other senior-level posts. Today 7 women (out of 30 as of 23 February 2017) are working as senior officials (director-general, deputy director-general, director/head of service) in the central administration.