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Breaking the bias – from trainee to head of region

It’s International Women’s Day 2022! FCDO Services celebrates this year’s theme ‘Break the Bias’ and the achievements of the women across our organisation. Tess, our soon to be Head of Region, shares her experience of being a woman in a technical role, and how things have changed over the years.

“FCDO Services operates globally across four regions: Asia-Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Middle East and Africa, and the Americas. And I’m just about to take up a new role overseeing one of these regions.

I will be responsible for the delivery of logistics, security, property management and IT in embassies and missions. This includes leading a team of engineers and professionals to meet the specialist needs of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

Which path to take – practical or academic?

All those years ago at school, I never dreamed of being in a role like this. While doing my A Levels in Maths and Physics, I weighed up my options and wondered whether to go to University or look for a job.

In the end, I decided a practical rather than academic career path was for me. Especially as I wanted to earn money straight away, so I could become independent.

I joined the (then) FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) as a Trainee Radio Technician, so I could see the world and gain further technical qualifications.

When I arrived, I was one of 10 trainees (now called apprentices) and, unsurprisingly, all the others were men. To be honest, I felt a bit out of place and worried if it was the right environment for me.

Despite being unsure, I was determined to stick with it. I was more interested in problem solving, technical solutions and the travelling opportunities, than being the odd one out!

As a trainee, I learned all about how to maintain and repair radio receivers and helped to enable the delivery of HMG worldwide correspondence.

I also went to College on day release (again, the only female student) to obtain a Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Telecommunications Engineering.

In the 1980s, travelling was a ‘no’

But once I qualified, I didn’t actually travel for a long time. Culturally it was very different back in the ‘80s. The teams that went abroad to install equipment were predominantly male.

Of course at the time I was disappointed not to be able work overseas, but I was determined to forge a UK based career either way. And I was quite successful at it!

I worked in Milton Keynes and London in a variety of roles, covering maintenance of encryption devices, repair of early word processer based IT systems, support of the first FCO mainframe computer system and the repair of teleprinters.

Things have moved on massively for women

The 1990s not only bought with it a new era of communication with the Internet, but it also gave me my first opportunity to go on an overseas installation trip. And after that I went on many more.

In 2001, I had my first overseas posting to Thailand. There I spent three years as a Regional Technical Security Specialist, looking after the CCTV, access control, IT and other technical systems. From Thailand I also travelled to FCO missions in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia and the Philippines. Other Postings soon followed.

I’m proud to say that in total, I’ve visited over 60 countries in my work for the FCO and FCDO Services. And I would love to visit myself in the ‘80s and just tell her, “Don’t worry this is going to happen and you’re going to have a career you could never have dreamed off.”

I’m happy to say that thankfully FCDO Services is a much more welcoming place these days. There are no barriers for apprentices from any background with aspirations to be Head of Region someday.”

Get your career started with FCDO Services

No industry should be closed to you because of your gender identity. From Engineering to IT to Construction, we strive for equality both here and in the wider industry.

If you’re interested in working for us, view more about our organisation and current vacancies on the FCDO Services Careers Website today.

FCDO Services is a great place to start or change your career. We also have a variety of apprenticeship schemes on offer. View a full list of our 2022 Apprenticeships, and don’t miss the chance to make your future bigger and brighter!

Further links

  • FCDO Services Careers

    It takes all sorts of skills to do what we do – providing an exceptional service for government customers, helping protect UK interests worldwide. Whichever career area you pick with us, there’s one thing for sure: it’s your job, bigger!

  • Our people

    Our people are experts in their field, performing cutting-edge work across a range of technical disciplines