02 Jun

British high commissioner Menna Rawlings takes diplomatic approach to motherhood

When the new British high commissioner to Australia, Menna Rawlings, joined the foreign office in 1989, there were two female heads of foreign missions.

As she looked around the organisation, she could see few senior female leaders with husbands and children. 

Now the mother of three works in a plum diplomatic post, while 40 other British women run sovereign diplomatic missions across the world.

Women make up about a quarter of Britain's top envoys. 

Ms Rawlings is the first female career diplomat posted to Canberra as high commissioner to Australia. 

Two other women in the same job, Valerie Amos and Helen Liddell, had political backgrounds.

"[In 1989], there was a leadership gap of women who looked like us [now], who had successful careers and who had families," she said. 

Other stereotypes would be broken during her 25-year climb up the diplomatic ladder.

At one point in its history, a lot of people from elite schools worked at the foreign office but Ms Rawlings came from a west London state school. 

"It's part of the story of how British diplomacy is changing," she said. "We're becoming more diverse. 

"Sometimes people are surprised how far we've moved forward."

Her children are aged eight, 15 and 17. During her career, she looked after babies in Israel and Ghana while her family also spent a period in the United States.

"I am fortunate to have a husband who's had a lot of time off," she said. "He's been the primary carer over the last 17 years.

"The world of work is adapting to be able to lean into women like me, it's not just us that have to do the leaning in."

One of the most bizarre moments in her life juggling motherly duties with diplomacy came when TV news broadcast her meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"[That] weekend, with my mummy friends sitting around with our babies, one of the mums said 'did I really see you on TV on Thursday night being kissed by Yasser Arafat'?."

Challenges for the high commission in Australia include reducing delays in issuing or renewing British passports since the work was recently sent back to Britain.

In total, 1.2 million people with British nationality or passports live in Australia and 600,000 British tourists visit each year. 

Ms Rawlings may even conduct her first marriage ceremony in Australia. The high commission conducts same-sex marriages for couples where one of the partners is a British citizen. 

"I'd quite like to do one at some point, I think they're a great celebratory event," she said.

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/public-service/british-high-commissioner-menna-rawlings-takes-diplomatic-approach-to-motherhood-20150531-ghbegj.html

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