For International Women's Day 2022, Celina Colquhoun reflects on an afternoon spent with impressive women.
I was asked recently by an immensely impressive woman (more of which later) what my passions were. It was in fact a great question but I had assumed it was along the lines of a polite one about ‘hobbies’. I mumbled rather pathetically: “Uhh… I don’t think I have any…”. She then said: “I mean with your work…” at which point a light went on in my head and out tumbled a lengthy description of all the different aspects of my work as a planning and environmental barrister and what I get to do as a member of the Bar Council. So there it is, and like most of us at the Bar, I see that I have a passion for it.
The better part of the conversation came next as I was able to ask the same of my impressive questioner, the UK ambassador to Austria as well as the UK Permanent Representative to the UN in Vienna, Lindsay Skoll. We were sitting in Middle Temple having lunch together with a number of her fellow Heads of Mission (HoM) and esteemed fellow Bar Council (BC) representatives as part of a legal training event the BC had put on.
Needless to say it was fascinating to hear of how the ambassador’s career had begun; where she had served and what it is that drives her and her passion for her work. We spoke also with her colleagues in Athens (who also admitted it was quite nice to be eating a roast and pud’ just as a slight change to healthy Mediterranean food) and Ankara. Also equally impressive women.
It was difficult to avoid the subject of Ukraine although the conversation took place before we had seen the endless and heartrending pictures of women and children being piled onto trains, leaving their men behind, or standing in the cold waiting to be admitted to a safer country. The palpable heart break at the stage when we spoke was that diplomacy had not prevailed. I do not however doubt that it will eventually.
We discussed our families and our children and shared a few jokes about how our professions had stumblingly made way for and sought to accommodate women. We decided the Bar was better at garb for women than the diplomatic service: no feathers and no sword – we thought that a great shame!
We paid huge respect and thanks to the men who had encouraged us and who inspire us, and it was heartening that none of us dwelt on those times when we knew progress had been affected negatively by the simple fact of being female.
In discussing how we started down the road to our respective professions it was striking how the enthusiasm and the disciplines required for each appealed equally too. In fact at the end of lunch we decided that if ever that was a chance to step into each others shoes and ‘job swap’ we would not hesitate!
It was a great conversation with some great women.
Happy International Women’s Day.
Celina Colquhoun is a member of 39 Essex Chambers; Co-Chair of the Bar Council European Committee and member of the Law Reform Committee. She is a specialist in planning and environmental law and was also on the panel which carried out the Government’s Independent Review of Administrative Law (IRAL).
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