Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Lunch with the Commanding Officer of HMS St Albans Monday 20 January


A lot of my pre-occupation and personal professional endeavour over the years has been in support of diversity in the workplace.  At Pearson, for example, I was responsible for international diversity right across the Group and introduced policies to ensure the removal of discrimination in recruitment and advancement where it still existed.   Previously at Cable & Wireless in the 1990's I advocated that women, including those who were married with children, should have equal opportunity offered to them to take up international assignments on the same basis as men and then did so myself with a move to Singapore.  

The Marketors' Company values its affiliation to HMS St Albans set up in 2011. The ship is currently undergoing major refit in a basin in Portsmouth harbour scheduled for completion by May. I was therefore particularly delighted on learning from the ship's previous CO back in September 2013 that HMS St Albans was likely to receive a female Commanding Officer to take the ship out of refit with a largely new ship's company and into Sea Training ready to rejoin the Fleet as an active unit.   Commander Catherine Jordan was duly appointed in December.  It is perhaps noteworthy that it was only in 2012 that the Royal Navy appointed any woman to sea going command and there is clearly now some considerable momentum behind the concept.

Cdr Jordan is in fact returning to HMS St Albans - an aviator, she has served on the ship before as the ship's very first Flight Commander shortly after commissioning.  She had specialised as a Helicopter Observer earlier in her career.

Just as I cannot claim to be the first lady Master of the Marketors, Catherine cannot claim to be the first woman to take command of a Type 23 frigate! Commander Sarah West is already "driving" HMS Portland to use the navy slang and Commander Sue Moore has command of Fishery Patrol Vessels based in Scotland. Nevertheless to my mind Catherine is definitely breaking exciting new ground in the field of diversity in the workplace because unlike Sarah West and Sue Moore, Catherine is married and also a mother - her daughter was born on Christmas Day 2012 and is now one year old.   Catherine's husband is a Captain in the Royal Navy currently shore-based.  

A lawyer by original training, Catherine is a delightful person and comes to HMS St Albans with substantive command experience  - she has previously commanded HMS Severn - an offshore patrol vessel and HMS Clyde.   She is enthusiastic about developing the ship's several affiliations which for the Marketors is very good news.

Commander Catherine Jordan RN with the Master

From a professional point of view I am delighted that the Royal Navy is clearly enlightened looking only to professional fitness in making its appointments - not to domestic situations.  That must be the lesson to all employers. 

I have myself worked professionally and almost continually all my professional life despite bringing up three children. It does necessitate employing management skills at home in a supportive domestic environment, and it is quite possible, but only with appropriate assistance, to combine a demanding senior level career with raising a family. 

The concept of having women in command of powerful and complex fighting units of the Royal Navy which may well be required to go to war is still sufficiently novel to warrant mention in the media - just as having a woman as Lord Mayor of the City of London.  It certainly changes the dynamics in a subtle way.

Commander Jordan will be attending the Installation Dinner on Thursday 23rd January with her Executive Officer where they will be able to meet the newly installed Master Michael Harrison.  As I pointed out to her she is somewhat privileged as both her predecessors, Tom Sharpe and Andrew Block were at sea patrolling the UK coasts at the time of the previous Installation Dinners, thus both missing out on the formal occasion!  

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