What started as a temporary job at the British Foreign Service has resulted in Her Excellency Victoria Treadell, British High Commissioner to Malaysia, achieving many firsts in her career. Treadell was first woman Deputy British High Commissioner to Mumbai, India. She was the first woman British High Commissioner to New Zealand and is the first woman British High Commissioner to Malaysia.
“I didn’t enter the Foreign Service with any great plan to have a career in it,” she says. “But once I started working there, I appreciated the opportunities that it afforded. One of the things that I really wanted was a job that enabled me to travel to see different countries and to work and live in them. I thought it was a really exciting and a job that would give me the opportunity to meet different people, experience different cultures and live in different environments.”
That she found at the Foreign Service.
“The lesson I took from that is that once you are clear about what you want to do and set a level of ambition, you have the courage to aspire to it.”
Fate might have had its part to play in the path that Treadell’s career took but she puts it down to the ability to spot opportunities and having the foresight to pursue them.
“I do believe that fate has its part to play but one of the lessons I learnt is that you have to allow for opportunities to present itself and pursue them. So being open to opportunity is an important quality. The ability to spot an opportunity comes before that.”
A career in the diplomatic service, she says, requires one to be “reasonably flexible.” Having to move every couple of years to a different environment also means that has to be an adaptable sort of character.
“You are required to pack up your life and move to wherever that is required.”
It is those demands of the job that have perhaps resulted in the perception a career in diplomacy is something that is perhaps more difficult for women.
“There is no job that a woman couldn’t do,” she asserts. “It is about how go about doing it that matters. Having a family is just something extra that women have to deal with but that’s not to say that men in the Foreign Service don’t have to do that because they are fathers and have their share of parental responsibility.”
But she adds that it is true that for her generation of women, it is the case that they will often go into environments where they are the first women to do certain jobs. .
“My generation, many of us will be the first woman to do a given job but in time, I don’t think it will be unusual or that it will be remarked upon.”
It is a natural curiosity, she says. “But at the end of the day it is about how you apply yourself, the qualities you have and what you achieve.”
Doing so will eventually result in gender becoming irrelevant.
“For me it is not something I think about it or else it becomes hindrance,” she says. “In all three High Commission jobs I was the first woman. You have to be resilient, rise above the comments and have complete confidence in yourself.”
It is about setting a vision and clear direction and what one wants to achieve.
“I can set the direction, set the vision but I also have to be support, encourage and empower.”
It is something that is perhaps enabled by the way the British Foreign Service, which doesn’t have a tradition of political appointees, is structured.
“You bid for the jobs that you want so you already in a competition and system has to be one that chooses the best candidate because of their track record. Gender is not in the equation.”
Bidding for a job also requires one to prepare a manifesto that gives one a mandate, which means that when one is posted to a country, he or she is already clear on what one wants to do, why and how you are going to do it.
“There’ll be no issues about your sense of purpose or direction about what you want to do.”
Treadell, who was born in Kampar, comes to Malaysia with clear objectives. The first is to grow British business in Malaysia.
“I am keen to see more British companies using Malaysia as a hub in ASEAN and a base for operations on a wider Asian market. That also plays into Malaysia’s own ambitions to be a centre of gravity in this part of the world so we have a mutual interest.”
At the same time she hopes to foster a closer relationship with Malaysian companies who want to invest in the UK, pointing to the Battersea Project as an example of the possibilities that could arise.
On a political front, there are also exciting possibilities with Malaysia assuming the role of Chairman of ASEAN and having one of the non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council.
“In terms of our political relationship, how we can work in areas of common interests, is something that we can explore.”
And of course, Malaysia and Great Britain have always had close links in education which places it high on the agenda.
“There is a demand of education here in Malaysia so that generations have the skills, knowledge that is necessary for the workforce Malaysia needs.”
Apart from just encouraging Malaysians to pursue tertiary education in the UK, the High Commission also aims to support British institutions who come to Malaysia. There are already five British universities here, she says, and there is potential to expand that.
This interview was published in Prestige Malaysia’s March 2015 issue.