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‘We’re on the right track but we’re not there yet’

Director of British-Irish relations at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Emer Rocke acknowledges more needs to be done to achieve diversity and inclusion in her workplace

“There is a recognition that we are not where we should be and there is a lot of effort going into it.”

“There is a recognition that we are not where we should be and there is a lot of effort going into it.”


The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has made a lot of progress on diversity and inclusion over the years but still has some way to go, according to director of British-Irish relations Emer Rocke.

“Across the Civil Service there are 40 per cent women employed,”she notes. “At the Department of Foreign Affairs, it’s 33 per cent. Twenty-one per cent of secretary generals are women; 33 per cent of assistant secretary generals, second secretaries, assistant secretaries are women – that’s 30 per cent in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Across the Civil Service, 40 per cent of principal officers are women; it’s 33.4 per cent in Foreign Affairs. But there is a recognition that we are not where we should be and there is a lot of effort going into it.”

Part of the difficulty at more senior levels in the department may be the requirement to serve overseas. “Anecdotally, I have heard that some women might opt out of the department and go to other departments as a result.”

She is pleased there are woman role models for others to follow. “The role models do exist, not enough though,” she says. “We had the incredible Anne Anderson. She pushed every boundary that existed. There used to be different overseas allowances for men and women. A woman diplomat didn’t get an allowance for a husband, it was for wives only. At every stage of her career, she broke the mould for equal rights. A lot of ambassadors are now women.”

‘LGBTI network’

Rocke says department secretary general Niall Burgess is very active in this sphere. “He has taken charge of equality and diversity personally,” she says. “We were one of the first departments to have an LGBTI network. There are efforts to make the foreign service more representative of the population. We have separate committees on gender and equality and diversity. There are moves to ensure that fathers take their paternity leave. We are certainly on the right track, but we’re not there or even close yet. However, it’s nice to be in a place where that is acknowledged.”

Rocke believes her own career progress has been aided by the generally supportive environment which exists in the department. “Speaking very personally, I have had nothing but support from the department – maternity leave, part-time working, term-time, nothing was ever an issue. I got married at 22 and had two daughters by the time I was 30. I job-shared for a while. To be able to do that was fantastic. I was able to change work patterns – one week on, one week off, mornings only. It was great. It gave you the best of both worlds – to work in the mornings and then get home to help with homework, arranging play dates and so on. I was able to adapt my working pattern to suit my family and it was great to have such a supportive department.”

And it certainly didn’t affect her career prospects. “I was promoted to higher executive officer while on maternity leave with my second daughter,” she recalls.

Emer Rocke was a participant in IMI's Taking the Lead - Women in Leadership programme: imi.ie/courses/taking-lead-women-leadership