Jane Marriott is the Fold Woman Competition 2016 winner. Jane was nominated by friend Clare Connell for her incredible work in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), serving as British Ambassador to Yemen and becoming FCO’s Director responsible for relations with the Gulf, Yemen and North Africa.
Read on to find out what Jane has been up to since winning, and why you should enter yourself or a friend for our 2017 competition.
How has your role changed and evolved since the Fold Woman feature?
Life is never dull and 2016 was a busy year, both globally and personally. The appointment of an additional Director-General at work [the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – FCO] meant that they no longer needed someone in my role as Co-Director of Middle East and North Africa issues. Whilst this was disappointing personally, as I’ve spent most of my career in that region, it’s true that when one door closes, another opens. After a period of negotiation, I was appointed as the Director of the Joint International Counter-Terrorism Unit – a new body set up to co-ordinate the UK’s approach to countering terrorism overseas. It’s a huge role with a small and fantastic team.
What’s your proudest achievement of 2016?
It has to be setting up the Joint International Counter-Terrorism Unit with my wonderful colleagues. It’s been part-inspiration, part-perspiration with a dollop of frustration that comes from working across numerous issues in large bureaucracies. My personal achievement is that I am now a more regular visitor to the gym and can leg press more than my own weight.
It’s great that we celebrate our achievements, but I also believe that we should share our disappointments and failures – success is about how you bounce back and deal with them. I was the deputy Ambassador to Tehran, Iran, in 2010-11 before we were attacked and had to close the Embassy.
Ever since I was a teenager I wanted to be a writer, so I decided to write a book about Iran. As an active diplomat, I couldn’t write directly about the politics or my meetings with Iranian officials, so instead I described my adventures as I travelled around the country. It was ultimately rejected because the lack of politics in a book written by a diplomat would be a hard sell. It has now been added to the pile of drafts for 30 years’ time when I retire and can write about the politics, if anyone might be interested in a memoir… The saving grace is that I have written a chapter for a book about diplomacy that is due out in early summer (Gender and Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, by Routledge Press). So I will have my name in print for something. Now I just need to work on the idea for another book – I have a couple of thoughts floating around.
Something you’ve heard recently that really stood out to you?
Whatever one’s personal opinions were about the EU Referendum and the US Presidential Election, both events seem to have revealed some of the fractures and fissures in Western societies. It’s very easy to dismiss the ‘other side’ as uninformed or ignorant, but people voted the way they did for what they believed were good reasons.
I’ve been trying to follow people and organisations on social media with whom I instinctively disagree. Not to argue with them, but to better understand where they’re coming from. Power is rarely bestowed, it is usually taken in some form or other. So the power that people have – collectively and as individuals – is to reach out to each other, understand those whom they think are the opposite of what they stand for, and work out what they have in common. Bridging the divide is much more difficult than ignoring or arguing, but ultimately it is what will heal our societies and avoid us spiralling into a place that history tells us is not a good place to be.
Two other thoughts; the debate about feminism and privilege has provided a lot of ongoing food for thought around intersectionality and how we support each other. Secondly, I follow a Facebook page called A Mighty Girl. Although it is aimed at teens and children, it profiles the most incredible women in history and inspires me on a regular basis.
What are your ambitions for the coming year?
2017 will be a mixture of introspection and action for me. Introspection about developing my leadership style further, about thinking how I can best contribute in and out of work to making ours a more collaborative society; about how to balance the call to be an Ambassador overseas again with my personal life and boyfriend.
The action is about doing something about it all of course, and understanding what I can influence and control and what I can’t (as a bit of a control freak, this is key to my happiness levels).
How did you find winning the Fold Woman Competition?
It was all rather surprising, my friend, Clare Connell, had entered me and I hadn’t expected to be considered. The pampering and trying on clothes that I would not normally have done was great fun. It also enabled me to rethink my wardrobe, as I was stuck in a bit of a trouser suit rut after so much time in the Middle East. It introduced me to The Fold and I’ve loved reading the interviews with a real cross-section of amazing and inspiring women.
Any advice for someone thinking about entering the competition?
If it had been up to me, I wouldn’t have considered entering myself into the competition: the jobs I’ve done are fascinating, but then so are lots of people’s roles. The idea that I could be interesting enough and maybe have some wisdom worth sharing was a great feeling. So to all of you out there thinking they may not be ‘special’ enough, give it a go. At the very least, it forces you to write down what you have overcome or achieved and what you’ve learnt from those experiences. Hopefully that in itself will be worthwhile. And as you’ve taken the trouble of writing it, you may as well send it in to The Fold…
What are your favourite pieces from the new collection?
I love the separates but it is The Fold dresses that still stand out for me. I wear the two dresses from last year’s Fold Woman Competition at least once a week each in the autumn and winter and have bought the Belgravia Dress in Rust and Rose Herringbone to extend my wardrobe. I’m looking forward to spring for many reasons (a fantastic fortnight exploring the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico this February provided some much-needed sun), including so I can wear the Arlington Dress in Dusty Rose again.
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