Catriona Boyd is the Deputy Consul-General at the British Consulate-General in Melbourne. She works to build and promote the UK-Australia relationship across Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. She identifies opportunities for collaboration across a range of UK priorities and passionately nurtures diversity. Prior to this role, Catriona led a team working on citizens’ rights policy in the Department for Exiting the European Union leading consultations with UK and EU citizens about their rights.
What have been the highlights of your experience working with the British Consulate General so far?
I started my role as Deputy Consul-General in January 2020. Covid-19 has made it a particularly challenging but interesting time to be in the position; if not a steep learning curve! In the space of 12 months, I experienced the huge variety of work that comes with a posting overseas – crisis management, engaging the business community, consular support, communications, building political relationships, leading and supporting an incredible team, and reporting back to London. All while battling various lockdowns and, like everyone, adapting to a virtual working life. I had to learn to swim at the deep end - and proving to myself I can do it has been a huge highlight.
I have also managed to squeeze in a couple of visits to the other states I cover: South Australia and Tasmania. One standout experience was a trip to Adelaide for the SouthStart conference. Two days of meeting innovative and creative people from government, business and academia, who want to help others, solve shared challenges, and share experiences with the UK.
Have you enjoyed traveling and working abroad as an aspect of your career? How did it come about?
Yes, I love it! As a student, I definitely wanted an international career and still have ‘pinch myself’ moments in this job. Despite a love of international affairs, I started my civil service career in a domestic role with the Department of Health and Social Care, working in a Minister’s Private Office, and then onto a policy job in the department leading EU Exit negotiations. I think my career benefitted from a variety of experiences and roles across different government departments. Learning the basic policy skills - from how government works, writing policy submissions, and briefing ministers - gives you a great set of skills to build on overseas.
Have you personally experienced any misogyny during your career? Have you noticed many positive changes to the treatment of women in diplomacy over the last few years?
In 1973, you could not be a female diplomat and married – it was family or a career. But now, we have women doing the top jobs around the world: 30% of all of the Heads of Mission representing the UK are women, including right here in Canberra. For the first time, women represent the UK in the ‘P5’ Countries (China, France, Russia and the United States). And why shouldn’t they? Women are awesome negotiators, inspiring speakers, and powerful leaders.
But we do still have some way to go on other diversity measures – the first UK female black Ambassador was appointed in 2018 and only 8% of senior colleagues in the UK FCDO identify as BAME – compared to 17% across the whole organisation.
I do remember people back home being surprised at my job, saying: “how on earth did someone from here become a diplomat?” That was less about being a woman and more about social mobility and the perception of the background needed to be a diplomat. Becoming a diplomat seemed unachievable when I was younger. But with our efforts – and the efforts of those before us - the world is changing and the benefits of a diverse workforce could not be clearer.
Do you have any notable female role models or mentors that have influenced you?
I've been lucky to have been surrounded by incredible women my whole life. I was raised by a single, working mum and have a large family who are very supportive - no career idea was too ridiculous (and there have definitely been a few)!
Professionally, I’ve had very supportive management - male and female - many of whom have helped me through various career moves. In Australia, British High Commissioner Vicki Treadell and three other incredible women lead Consulates across the country. But you don’t have to be at the top of an organisation to be a leader: significant roles throughout the public sector are filled by women.
Whilst I’ve never had a formal mentoring relationship, I have learned that there are always people willing to help - you just have to be bold enough to find them and ask.
Based on your own journey, what is one piece of advice you would give to young women aspiring to work in the public sector and/or international relations?
Be flexible. When I left university, I had a clear focus on international work but my first job in the civil service was working on domestic policy and, much to my surprise, I really loved it. I learnt to open up my options – don’t pigeon hole yourself, especially when young. It gets harder to move into different areas at a senior level so try a few at the start. Also: sometimes, who you work with is more important that what you are working on.
For those interested in pursuing a career in diplomacy and international relations, Catriona recommends joining the British Consulate’s young leader’s network – the Westminster Bridge – which runs a series of events and networking opportunities for young Victorians aged 18 - 35. You can sign up by emailing YoungLeaders.Australia@fco.gov.uk. You might also be interested in the upcoming UK/Australia Season (https://www.britishcouncil.org.au/UKAustraliaSeason)