By Mayshad Mag
Mayshad Magazine is an advocacy platform for empowerment which mainly focuses on empowering women, raising awareness and exploring a contemporary lifestyle.
Interview with Berenice Owen-Jones
Could you tell us more about yourself and your professional life?
Thank you for being here today at the Australian Embassy Residence in Rabat. I’m Berenice Owen-Jones, The Australian ambassador in Morocco. I’m here with my husband and two of my three children. I’ve been in Morocco for a year as Australia’s first ambassador to Morocco. I’ve had quite a long career in our foreign service, over 20 years. My husband is also a diplomate, and between the two of us, we’ve been posted to Manila, Moscow, Washington, Paris, and now Rabat, with quite a few years in Canberra as well.
Why did you choose diplomacy as a career path?
I think I realized I wanted to go into diplomacy after I studied at the Australian national university. My studies kind of led me in that direction. I studied economics and then international law; I also studied languages, which is also very useful in the foreign service, specifically Russian, and I already spoke French. So, my studies led me in that direction, but I saw an opportunity in joining the foreign service to engage with big international foreign policy issues, be they trade, peace & security, aid & development …and also on big multilateral issues of the day, for example counter-terrorism, people trafficking, climate change of course… All those problems that a former UN secretary general I think it was Kofi Annan Called Problems with our passports, and they’re inherently interesting. And Of course, extremely varied, it’s the variety of the job I was really drawn to.
I also wanted the opportunity to represent a country I’m very proud of, Australia, and it’s always very satisfying to sit in front of the Australian flag.
How did you get to where you are today?
I had the right skills for the job, but I spent quite a few years building on those skills and getting the right training. So, it’s all very well to have a certain qualification at the end of university, that’s not the end of the story. You’ve got to be very strategic about the jobs that you choose to do, you have to find the right people to mentor you. I think there was a recognition in terms of the jobs that I got including this recent ambassadorial position, that I had an intellectual capacity but that’s not the end of the story. I had to demonstrate every step of the way that I was flexible, that I could apply that intellectual capacity into a variety of environments, often challenging environments. That applies to the job of a diplomat, but it applies to many jobs in the international context, be they NGOs or well it’s very true of a diplomate, but they’re essential skills. Another skill that I had that helped me move up the ranks was the ability to engage with people and we’ll talk little bit about leadership, but to engage with people from a great variety of cultures and backgrounds, on sometimes quite technical issues in other languages. So that’s quite a challenge and that’s helped me, the fact that I was able to do that, or I received the training to do that helped me enormously. Another important skill I think is vital in diplomacy, but in frankly any job is the ability to write and express yourself clearly. So, words and the ability to use those words persuasively are your everyday currency, and that’s very important. You can have very good ideas, but if they’re expressed sloppily they will not shine through. So, every step of the way I’ve polished my communication skills and my writing skills, I read the economist, I find a magazine I like the style of and I continue reading that. I developed my own style of writing, it’s clear and it’s accurate.
Evidently, your position requires you to lead. Do you have a particular style of leadership?
I’d like to think my style of leadership is collegiate. I believe in very strong teamwork, I want everybody on the team to make a contribution to the office or certain task that we’re working on, and I want to encourage the free flow of ideas and creativity, and to do that, individual members of the team need to feel they’re in a safe space to express themselves. So that’s what I call collegiate leadership. Obviously, to use an Australian expression, the buck stops with me; I make the final decisions, but every member of the team makes a contribution. and another form of leadership I subscribe to is authentic leadership. So, authentic leadership is, of course, it’s being yourself, but it’s not just being yourself, it’s being your best self at work. And Not trying to be something you’re not or not applying the latest management course that you’ve been on; it’s actually having a philosophy of leadership. A good leader should encourage team members to make their own decisions, to think for themselves. And A good leader needs to be able to do that to get the best results for the team.
What words of advice would you have for those entering a leadership position for the first time?
Leadership can be learned. So, you can receive leadership training, but it’s also important to look at role models around you, have you worked for a leader? or you’ve seen a leader that you admire? so look for role models. Perhaps in your career find mentors who will give you free advice, and sometimes quite constructive criticism about your leadership style. Also, I mentioned a philosophy of leadership, so leadership is, there are three things that to me are fundamental to leadership, I call them the three C’s. So, character, I mentioned being yourself and integrity of course. Commitment, being a leader, you’re a leader all the time, you can’t turn it on and off, and you’ve got to be very even-tempered and calm at the office, so consistency, that’s the second C. And the third C is communication, so you need to give your team a vision that they can aspire to, they need to be clear about what they’re doing and where they’re headed as a team. so, the three C’s is a nice little tip if you’re starting off in leadership.
How do you keep morale high in the office, and inspire others to work hard?
So, I’ve already touched upon teamwork, and as a leader, it’s important to show that I can roll up my sleeves and do the same work as other people, we’re all in this together, and I try and foster that feeling of a team working together. I want the office or my office to be a place where people are happy to come into in the morning, they look forward to coming to work in the morning. so, I want to create an environment where people are free to express themselves, where people can have a sense of humor, make light-hearted conversation. I also want to, I’ve mentioned the word calm, I want a calm work environment because if people are under constant stress, they’re not thinking clearly. So, when times are stressful, that’s when as a leader I need to step in and encourage a calm environment and make calm considered decisions. So, in a nutshell that’s how I try and create a good work environment.
As a mother, a wife, a daughter and a sister, have you been able to find balance between your high-pressure work life and family life?
Well, it’s definitely a juggling act, and it does involve certain sacrifices but I’ve grown better with it. I’ve grown better doing that as time has gone by, I’ve gotten better at prioritizing and that’s the key thing, you need to know what’s pressing, what isn’t so pressing, what can wait until the following day, and be well-rounded person and also look after yourself and your family to achieve that equilibrium; it can be quite a difficult equilibrium to reach.
What were your biggest obstacles towards this?
Well, I’ve been lucky that I’ve had a very supportive work environment. I work in a foreign ministry that places a great emphasis on women in leadership and gender equality. So I’m very fortunate in that respect. I’ve been given a lot of opportunities, I’ve had a lot of good mentors and I want to acknowledge the help that I’ve had. In terms of obstacles, well you know it is I said it was a juggling act, this having to balance work and family, times in your life where it is difficult when you’ve got very young children or aging parents, often call it call it the sandwich generation, because you find yourself doing all those things, dragging all those things and trying to climb the corporate ladder. Sometimes you feel as though something has got to give, too often it’s going to a gym I’m afraid, but I’ve got a good resolution to be a bit more self-disciplined, but it is a juggling act.
To be a Mayshad woman is a choice a woman makes to live a simulated life with a positive philosophy based on gratitude, acceptance and accomplishment, in order to “be who you want to be “. She handles different aspects of her life with confidence, and makes sure to always remain herself, guarding her own values; she is a free spirit, who designs her own life while inspiring others to do the same.
Based on this description, how do you relate to the Mayshad woman philosophy?
I think they’re incredibly empowering words. Essentially saying to women, young women “don’t be afraid”, “fear is your worst enemy” that little doubting voice, that niggling voice that says you can’t do it, I’m not up to it, I don’t have the confidence … don’t listen to it!
So, it’s an incredibly powerful message, and somebody might say: well, do you really need to say that? Surely these are self-evident truths; but they’re not, not in all countries, and not at all stages of life either; they’re very often there are times when you doubt yourself, and that’s perfectly normal. If you stick to that kind of philosophy, it can see you through some difficult times, at work and in your personal life, so I think it’s an incredibly empowering philosophy.