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Katherine Leach. “Any woman going into politics needs to have a lot of confidence, resilience, and persuasiveness”

 

 

British Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Armenia Katherine Leach is a  woman who managed to succeed everywhere and in everything : to give birth to a child,  be a happy wife and  have success in career. She kindly agreed to answer questions of  WomanNet.am.

It should be noted, that the couple Jonathan James Aves and Katherine Jane Leach were appointed Joint Ambassadors to the Republic of Armenia in 2012. They carry out their official duties in 4-month rotation system.

 

 

– Ms. Ambassador, Appointment of Joint Ambassadors was an unprecedented case in Armenian diplomatic practice, although you had joint working experience in other countries. What positive and negative aspects can occur during such a professional family tandem?

 

Of course I feel very positive about having a chance to work as a ‘Team Ambassador’ with my husband.  And I’m grateful to both our Foreign Office, and to the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for keeping an open mind about how the job of an Ambassador can be done.   I think the positives are clear from a personal and an organisational point of view.  We both get a chance to take on a fantastic job over the course of three to four years and the Foreign Office ends up with two officers with recent, relevant leadership experience and skills rather than just one.  The key issue is whether we can show that this approach can also produce good results for our staff in the Embassy and for our partners in Armenia.  It might not work everywhere or for everyone, but our own view is that – particularly in a small Embassy – having new energy coming in every four months is incredibly helpful.  It adds to the resources and the resilience of the Embassy. The biggest challenge is keeping each other updated on the day-to-day detail.

–         Do you have professional-level disagreements and are you able to defend your position?

 

On most questions we have pretty similar views.  Occasionally we initially have different ideas or approaches – but we know that we need to keep talking until we find a solution we are both happy with.  I am not keeping count of who wins more often – I suspect the most frequent outcome is in fact a compromise.

 

 

–  Isn’t it difficult to take three roles of  wife, mother and diplomat at the same time.?Does your husband help you to balance career and family?

I would never say it is easy to balance career and home life.  It is a constant challenge for every working mother I know.  But I also think it is only possible – at least for me – when you have a supportive and flexible partner.  I am very fortunate to have such a partner.

 

 

–  Have you ever personally faced with manifestations of gender discrimination during your career?

I can honestly say that I have not felt discrimination in my career so far. Since joining the Foreign Office I have in fact been struck by the efforts the Office has made to try to allow women to work flexibly and stay in the work force during those crucial years when children are small.  I should add – this flexibility also benefits the men in the Office too.  Nowadays many have family responsibilities or wives with careers, and they can find it as helpful as women do to have an opportunity, for example, to take unpaid leave for a period of time or to work part-time.

 

–         What are the solutions to the problem of gender inequality in the UK?

We have come such a long way in my lifetime on this issue.  Of course, if you look at statistics – for example, the number of women in parliament (22%), the number of female CEOs in FTSE 100 companies (7%) – then you can always argue that we have more left to do.  We need to make a breakthrough in getting a better percentage of top jobs.  But women are now a vital part of the workforce in the UK, doing all kinds of jobs even my mother’s generation might not have dreamed of.  Until 1973, even in the Foreign Office a woman had to resign if she got married.  This is simply unthinkable nowadays – and these changes in social attitudes have been underpinned by a strong legal framework making discrimination illegal and supporting maternity leave.

 

 

–  What does British political arena look like today from the perspective of women’s representation? Are there any women aspiring to high political positions?

 

We have a number of talented women in the front ranks of our political parties.  To take just a couple of examples –  Theresa May is our Home Secretary.  Yvette Cooper is her opposite number in the Shadow Cabinet.  Both have been mentioned as possible future leaders.   All the party leaders have noted the importance of promoting female MPs into high profile ministerial jobs – but we also need to keep up the efforts to get as many talented women into parliament as possible.

 

 

–         What do you think about success of woman in politics? What does it depend on? What features should a woman have  in order to make a dizzy political career as Margaret Thatcher did in her time, setting a unique record of remaining Prime Ministr – 11,5 years…

 

Being a politician is a tough business of long hours, no job security beyond the next election, constant media scrutiny and a lot of professional and personal criticism.  As a non-elected civil servant, I really respect people who are willing to put themselves through this.  Any woman going into politics needs to have a lot of confidence, resilience, and persuasiveness.  But politics being politics, luck – and timing –  is also important.  You need to be in the right place at the right time and have the courage, as Mrs Thatcher did, to seize the moment.  She famously said, in 1974, that, ‘It will be years – and not in my time – before a woman will lead the party or become prime minister’.   She then became leader in 1975 and won the 1979 election to become Prime Minister.

 

 

–   The first precedent of nomination of woman in presidential elections in Armenia was observed last year, when a journalist Narine Mkrtchyan was nominated as a presidential candidate. Another matter is that she did not participate in a race because of not paying the election pledge. Do you think that this nomination is able to change something in perceptions of women in the context of aspiring to high positions?

 

I also really hope that Narine Mkrtchyan’s nomination this year will prove to be a watershed moment.  The British Embassy, British Council and other international organisations have supported a lot of projects in recent years which have offered training – in media skills, in campaigning, in leadership – to women thinking about standing for local or national elections.  These projects have been really successful in giving women the confidence to realise that they can go for it, and for helping them create support networks of other women in the same position.  I hope Narine’s example will inspire others.

 

 

 There is only one woman in our region – former Prime Minister of Georgia Nino Burjanadze – who became an Acting President during two months. In your opinion, what does prevent women from occupying managerial positions in post-Soviet region – peculiarities of mentality, lack of willingness to advance or other obstacles?

It is difficult to boil this complex question down to one answer.  If you look at the countries across the ыworld which currently have female leaders, they range from some of the richest (Germany, Australia, Denmark), some of the fastest growing (Brazil, South Korea), some which have only become independent countries in the past 25 years (Lithuania, Slovakia, Kosovo), and some of the poorest (Malawi, Liberia, Bangladesh).   Overall, an open transparent system of government where people strive to promote others solely based on merit should, in theory, open the door for more women to get to the top.  But social attitudes are really important too –  I look at the example of my own country and how much has changed in my generation compared to my mother’s.

 

 

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