‘YOU DON’T RE­TIRE FROM BE­ING A WOMAN’

Out­go­ing Ir­ish Am­bas­sador to the US Anne An­der­son re­flects on her 45-year-long, trail­blaz­ing ca­reer in the male-dom­i­nated world of the diplo­matic ser­vice

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Suzanne Lynch Wash­ing­ton Cor­re­spon­dent

It’s mid-sum­mer in Wash­ing­ton DC and Anne An­der­son is tak­ing a break from pack­ing her pa­pers and mak­ing some fi­nal calls as she pre­pares to leave the US cap­i­tal. In the cool of the Ir­ish Em­bassy, over­look­ing leafy Sheri­dan Cir­cle, the out­go­ing Ir­ish Am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton is in re­flec­tive mood.

Her de­par­ture this sum­mer is part of the reg­u­lar ro­ta­tion of Ire­land’s diplo­matic ser­vice – af­ter four years in this post she will be re­placed next month by Ire­land’s Am­bas­sador to Great Bri­tain, Dan Mul­hall. But for An­der­son, who turns 65 this year, it also marks the end of a 45-year ca­reer at the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs.

An­der­son is some­thing of a trail­blazer for Ir­ish fem­i­nism. The Tip­per­ary na­tive joined the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs in 1972 af­ter grad­u­at­ing from UCD with a de­gree in his­tory and po­lit­i­cal sci­ence.

“Like many peo­ple of my gen­er­a­tion, my fa­ther was en­cour­ag­ing me to pur­sue a per­ma­nent, pen­sion­able Civil Ser­vice ca­reer, but I was wor­ried it would be too nar­row and I re­fused to do the ap­pli­ca­tion for ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer,” she says with a smile. “Then he came home one evening with an ap­pli­ca­tion form for third sec­re­tary at the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs. I thought, this sounds dif­fer­ent; this could of­fer ad­ven­ture . . .”

On join­ing the depart­ment, An­der­son moved swiftly up the ranks. In her early years in Dublin, Gar­ret FitzGer­ald was min­is­ter for for­eign af­fairs. “I was still very young but Gar­ret FitzGer­ald was the kind of per­son who had no re­gard for hi­er­ar­chy. He just wanted to en­gage with who­ever was writ­ing the briefs. It was ex­hil­a­rat­ing to have se­nior-level ex­po­sure at a very young age in the depart­ment. I em­braced it.”

In 1976 she was sent on her first for­eign post­ing, to Geneva. An­der­son had joined the depart­ment at a time when it was ex­pand­ing due to Ire­land’s ac­ces­sion to the EEC, a de­vel­op­ment that also re­quired Ire­land to abol­ish the mar­riage ban that had obliged women to give up their jobs in the civil and pub­lic ser­vice on mar­riage.

A first of firsts

As a re­sult, she be­came the first mar­ried woman to be posted abroad for the depart­ment. A bat­tle over al­lowances and terms and con­di­tions en­sued.

“I saw no is­sue. I was a mar­ried of­fi­cer. But the Depart­ment of Fi­nance took the view, be­cause the reg­u­la­tions were drawn up at a time when mar­ried of­fi­cer by def­i­ni­tion meant ‘mar­ried man’, that I had no au­to­matic right to the dif­fer­ent al­lowances. I had to put my foot down, very early on,” she re­calls.

Ul­ti­mately, the is­sue was re­solved on the eve of her de­par­ture. But the ex­pe­ri­ence was in­struc­tive. “I think that early ex­po­sure prob­a­bly meant that a bit of steel en­tered my soul.”

As An­der­son’s ca­reer pro­gressed, she soon dis­cov­ered this would be just one of many “firsts” in her life. In 1995 she be­came the first fe­male Ir­ish am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions in Geneva – a pe­riod that co­in­cided with Mary Robin­son’s ten­ure as UN High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights.

“I re­mem­ber one meet­ing where we had three Ir­ish women on the panel – Mary, my­self as chair of the com­mis­sion on hu­man rights, and Liz O’Don­nell, then min­is­ter of state rep­re­sent­ing the gov­ern­ment,” she re­calls with a smile. Mary Robin­son is still a friend and the two met a few weeks ago in Wash­ing­ton.

She was also Ire­land’s first fe­male am­bas­sador to France and the US. But even she was sur­prised to learn, when ap­pointed Ire­land’s am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union in 2001, that, not only was she the first Ir­ish woman to hold the post, she was also the first woman from an EU coun­try to hold the po­si­tion of per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Brus­sels.

His­tory maker

As she chaired Ire­land’s pres­i­dency of the EU in 2004, An­der­son took her place along­side dozens of male am­bas­sadors. One sim­ple line in a Fi­nan­cial Times ar­ti­cle cap­tured the im­port of her ap­point­ment: “She made his­tory by sit­ting down”.

While An­der­son is keen to stress that she never ex­pe­ri­enced any dis­crim­i­na­tion from any of her fel­low am­bas­sadors dur­ing her post­ing in Brus­sels, but she does be­lieve it was re­mark­able.

“It is sim­ply a com­pletely ab­nor­mal sit­u­a­tion to have that kind of im­bal­ance at a ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. I don’t think it was just by co­in­ci­dence that it hap­pened. I think at some sub­lim­i­nal level, there was a sense that Brus­sels is where the heavy lift­ing is done. Brus­sels is a place where you’re of­ten ne­go­ti­at­ing through the night to get out­comes, and at some sub­lim­i­nal level there was a sense this was a man’s job. I can­not be­lieve it was purely a co­in­ci­dence that you never had a woman at that in­ner ta­ble be­fore.”

In 2009 she was posted to the UN in New York where she met her part­ner Frank, a New York sur­geon, and in 2013 be­came Am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton. She had pre­vi­ously spent four years in Wash­ing­ton in the 1980s where her daugh­ter Claire was born.

Like the rest of the world, An­der­son watched as Don­ald Trump’s im­prob­a­ble vic­tory un­folded last Novem­ber. On the Trump phe­nom­e­non she is diplo­mat­i­cally ret­i­cent, un­will­ing to be drawn on crit­i­cism of the pres­i­dent. “Ob­vi­ously it is a new con­text, a new ad­min­is­tra­tion, but the tools of diplo­macy re­main the same, find­ing the points of con­nec­tions, build­ing re­la­tion­ships, iden­ti­fy­ing the com­mon­al­ity of in­ter- ests for both coun­tries,” she says, tact­fully.

She dis­putes any sug­ges­tion that suc­ces­sive Ir­ish gov­ern­ments and di­plo­mats have cul­ti­vated Democrats at the ex­pense of Repub­li­cans. “Hav­ing bi­par­ti­san sup­port for our agenda here has al­ways been cen­tral to our strat­egy.” she says, “Even be­fore this elec­tion, we had a bedrock of solid re­la­tion­ships on the Hill on the Repub­li­can side.” She cites House Speaker Paul Ryan, and his deputy Kevin McCarthy, as well as bud­get di­rec­tor Mick Mul­vaney, who she de­scribes as a friend.

Nu­mer­ous Repub­li­can sen­a­tors as well as Demo­cratic mi­nor­ity leader Nancy Pelosi at­tended An­der­son’s farewell re­cep­tion in Wash­ing­ton last month. She also cites eco­nomics and trade as one of the key pri­or­i­ties of the em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton, as well as the is­sue of im­mi­gra­tion re­form.

Role of sex­ism

She does be­lieve, how­ever, that sex­ism played a role in last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. “Ob­vi­ously there were a lot of fac­tors at play, but when you look at the con­stant ob­ser­va­tions and crit­i­cisms about Hil­lary Clin­ton – what she was wear­ing, the pitch of her voice, did she smile enough. Those ques­tions would not have arisen, cer­tainly to the same de­gree, if one was com­ment­ing on a male can­di­date.”

“I of­ten sug­gest a thought ex­per­i­ment,” she con­tin­ues. “If you re­verse the gen­der for the two can­di­dates. If you gave them ex­actly the same his­tory, tem­per­a­ment, mode of ex­pres­sion, set of opin­ions and you re­versed sim­ply their gen­der . . . well I think a lot of peo­ple wouldn’t need to think too long about that ques­tion.”

She has also been con­fronted with the con­ser­vatism of some sec­tions of Ir­ish- Amer­ica. She has spo­ken be­fore about the marginal­i­sa­tion of women from the story of Ir­ish-Amer­ica. Last year, she be­came the first woman to be ad­mit­ted to the Philadelphia branch of the Friendly Sons of St Pa­trick, a 245- year- old, all- male, Ir­ish- Amer­i­can so­ci­ety which hosts an an­nual St Pa­trick’s Day din­ner.

She says it was an im­por­tant mo­ment: “Of all days, on th­ese na­tional days, to have ma­jor events where women have to stay out­side the doors, it’s not how I see Ire­land.” She adds that this mod­ern vi­sion of an in­clu­sive, for­ward-look­ing Ire­land was one that was pro­moted in the hun­dreds of 1916 com­mem­o­ra­tion events that took place across the US last year.

As she re­flects on her ca­reer over four decades, An­der­son is op­ti­mistic about how far women have come. But she still be­lieves that there are prob­lems in terms of fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in politics.

“No­body could be happy with the sit­u­a­tion where you have 22 per cent fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the Dáil. The im­per­a­tive is to in­crease that per­cent­age. I think very ded­i­cated and com­mit­ted ef­forts are go­ing to have to be re­quired to ac­cel­er­ate change.”

She sees sim­i­lar is­sues in other pro­fes­sions, in­clud­ing the diplo­matic ser­vice.

“In the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs at en­try level we have about 55 per cent fe­male, 45 per cent male in­take, but at the very top lev­els, it’s about 20 per cent fe­male. Ob­vi­ously what peo­ple hope and be­lieve is that time will look af­ter the prob­lem, that there is a pipe­line there. But I have con­stantly made the point – you have to pro­tect your pipe­lines, oth­er­wise pipe­lines have a habit of de­vel­op­ing leaks.”

Nonethe­less, she is con­scious about the progress that has been made. She re­calls the ex­pe­ri­ence of her mother.

“For my mother, there was the dou­ble bur­den of gen­der and so­cial class. She was an ex­tremely bright per­son but left school at about 15, worked as a clerk in the post of­fice and had to re­sign be­cause of mar­riage. But she had a very in­quir­ing mind, a lively in­tel­li­gence, a pas­sion for lit­er­a­ture and par­tic­u­larly po­etry.

“I think there was a de­gree of frus­tra­tion all her life that there were not bet­ter out­lets for her tal­ents. Things are rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent to­day in terms of ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­nity. The change has been ex­tra­or­di­nary.”

As she looks back at her ca­reer she cites her time at the UN in the field of hu­man rights as one of the key chal­lenges and achieve­ments.

As for her next ad­ven­ture, her im­me­di­ate plan is to spend some time in Ire­land. But, as she put it in a speech to a Nol­laig na mBan break­fast ear­lier this year when she ac­cepted an award from the Ir­ish Amer­i­can Part­ner­ship: “You don’t re­tire from be­ing a woman, you don’t re­tire from hav­ing a sense of jus­tice, and you don’t re­tire from hav­ing a vi­sion for what a more equal world would look like.”

Be­cause the reg­u­la­tions were drawn up at a time when mar­ried of­fi­cer by def­i­ni­tion meant ‘mar­ried man’, I had no right to the dif­fer­ent al­lowances I think at some sub­lim­i­nal level, there was a sense that Brus­sels is where the heavy lift­ing is done . . . and there was a sense this was a man’s job

Anne An­der­son: ‘Hav­ing bi­par­ti­san sup­port for our agenda here has al­ways been cen­tral to our strat­egy.’ Be­low, as Ir­ish am­bas­sador to France, pre­sent­ing her let­ter of cre­den­tials to Prince Al­bert II in Monaco. PHOTOGRAPH: MARTY KATZ WASHINGTONPHOTOGRAPHER.COM Im­per­a­tive

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