Northern Ireland news

Tyrone native feared she would have to quit UK Foreign Office if she had children

Omagh-native Jill Gallard, who was named London's first female ambassador to Germany last year.

THE Omagh-born woman who has become the UK's first female ambassador to Germany said she feared she would have to give up her successful diplomatic career if she had children.

Jill Gallard, who took on the role last November, said she has found "many Germans are openly disappointed that the UK has chosen to leave the EU".

"At the same time they are pragmatic and understand it was a democratic decision," she said, adding the UK-Germany Joint Declaration "is all about how we look forward and work together on the big global challenges", including "climate change, democracy, human rights, and international development".

Her career path has only become possible in recent decades, with the British Foreign Office banning women from diplomatic roles until 1946, and requiring them to resign if they got married until 1973.

The first married female ambassadors were not appointed until 1987.

"When I joined the Foreign Office in 1991, I'd always thought I'd have to leave if I got married and had kids," Ms Gallard said.

"All the senior women seemed to be single or not have children and so the message that sent was that, actually you cannot do this job and have a family, if you are a woman.

"My husband and I didn't marry until our late 30s. When I had my first posting as an ambassador to Lisbon in 2011, our sons were only aged three and one.

"... At the time; I could not find a female British ambassador who had done the job with such young children... I remember being very nervous about all of the evening commitments. I thought, `I'll just have to do my best'."

There are now more than 60 women currently in position as heads of mission for the UK abroad - tripling from 22 in a decade.

"When my boys were toddlers, I would always try to go home for five o'clock for tea and bath-time, then I would go to a reception and be like an Exocet missile, talking to the most important people, and then escape so I could be back for bedtime as often as possible," Ms Gallard said.

She says it is "just bizarre now to think that in my lifetime female diplomats were required to quit if they got married".

The current crop of female ambassadors feels "almost like a sisterhood because we've come up the hard way" and "many of us spend a lot of time mentoring younger female diplomats".

Ms Gallard is sharing her story as part of the NIO's ourstoryinthemaking.com and says her Troubles childhood helped her to success in diplomacy.

The Tyrone-born woman's family re-located to Co Antrim when she was two-years-old, and her protective parents ""did not let me see the news until I was at secondary school".

"Growing up in Northern Ireland during the worst years of the Troubles definitely gave me a desire to see more dialogue, less conflict."

Having herself lost friends to the violence, the Good Friday Agreement was a watershed moment.

"I remember that feeling of relief thinking `It's over. The next generation will not have this hanging over them'. That really inspired me and gave me hope for the future."

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