Former Zonta awardee Tiaji Sio shares her powerful story

Zonta International’s Young Women in Public Affairs (YWPA) Award has recognized many inspiring and ambitious young women since it was introduced in 1990.

Tiaji Sio, a 2015 international recipient of the YWPA Award, is 24 years old and recently made the Forbes 30 Under 30 Germany list. She works for the Federal Foreign Office and is also the founder of Diplomats of Color Network, a group for Black people and people of color who work in the German Foreign Service.

The network’s 150 advocates are driving the process of diversifying not only the Foreign Service, but the whole German public administration. While she has received wide recognition for her efforts, Tiaji credits her colleagues at Diplomats of Color and sees her success and recognition as an accomplishment for the whole team.

Tiaji was born in Frankfurt, Germany, to parents from Liberia, Guinea and Germany. She was always interested in exploring other countries and learning about new cultures and languages, which led her to her career as a diplomat. Currently living in Vietnam for her job, Tiaji’s work has also taken her to Senegal, Mozambique and Berlin.

In February, Tiaji was featured by Zonta International in a Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories event, a leadership series hosted by Lynne Foley OAM, chairman of the Zonta International Leadership Development Committee.

Tiaji believes remarkable leaders must have the “ability to be able to understand perspectives of a lot of people and not only be in that sphere of political elites or leaders but take a step back and look at what other people from all parts of society would think about a certain issue. Take that up and include it into your work.”

Personally, Tiaji sees her ability to clearly explain her point of view as one of her greatest gifts, specifically in the context of working with topics like racism and discrimination, which can be polarizing.

“The ability to clearly state what you want to say without making it too emotional or too biased … is really important, especially when you, at the end of the day, want to initiate a policy change or mindset within the political sphere.”

Though women often make themselves smaller, Tiaji believes confidence is important—while still continuing to develop skills. It is perhaps this attitude that has made her a role model to other women and girls.

“It’s just being visible and being a good example for the next generation,” Tiaji said about being a role model. “I feel like that's what I'm trying to be by breaking down structural barriers, to make foreign policy more inclusive.”

With her passion for creating an inclusive world, Tiaji enthusiastically describes herself as a feminist.

“To me, feminism means gender equity—equity for everyone, no matter what gender—and feminism to me means intersectionality, so acknowledging intersecting forms of discrimination and recognizing your own privileges.”

In the next three to four years, Tiaji’s goal is for the Diplomats of Color to expand and scale up its network and establish diversity across the public administration, eventually establishing one network in each of the 14 federal ministries and create an inter-ministerial diversity network. The group is also trying to bring their ideas to the policy level and establish the legal framework to make diversity management happen in public administration.

“What we’re trying to do is say, ‘No matter what you look like, no matter what your name is, you have a voice, and your voice is worth hearing on a political level and in a leadership position.”

Ultimately, Tiaji hopes one day the Diplomats of Color’s work is not necessary anymore “and that diversity, equity and inclusion have become key features of the government and its administration—not only in Germany, but anywhere in the world.”

She also believes that women—particularly women of color—will achieve the goal of gaining more important and political positions in fields such as business and science, where women are underrepresented.

“There are so many remarkable women that are working on that goal—and not only women, men alike,” she said. “I feel like, in that sense, we all need to be feminists.”

Before concluding the event, Tiaji told the audience, “Considering we’re all from different countries, what we tend to do is focus on our own perspective and our own position. My challenge would be to expand that horizon and think about, ‘How can we create an equitable life for all?’ … and think about the ways we are connected in our common humanity and the ways we can improve our lives collectively. That should be our aspiration behind our actions.”

Click here for the recording of Tiaji's Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories session.

30 MARCH 2021