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News > Old Girls' Association > Shaping the Nation

Shaping the Nation

St Swithun's alumna Jo Fiddian ED 1999 came to Old Girls' Day this year [2019] with her family. We asked her to tell us all about them and her successful career in the Civil Service...

Interviewed for OGA Chain 2019 magazine

Tell us about your family 
“I live with my partner Zac and we have two children. Caspar is seven now and is in year 3. In fact I’m just thinking about his cardboard Mayan temple for his school project. He’s going to make it when he gets home from school and has all these crazy ideas for it!

Penny (Penelope) is four now. She is in year R full time and even though she loves it, she finds it exhausting. I felt bereft when she finally started school.  

With both of them in full time education now, we have to plan everything in advance and time just disappears in this endless cycle of terms. It’s all speeding up and it feels like they’ll be at university all of a sudden!”

Do you find it exhausting being a mum and a civil servant?
“Well there have certainly been times when I felt like I was doing neither job well! After I had Caspar I went part time but just ended up doing a full time job in part time hours. Now I job share which works much better for me. I know that when I am off work my role is being competently covered so I feel like I’m properly off work. It’s also better for our team too as they have more consistency and our department certainly gets good value for money!

I’m currently working three days a week and one of those is from home. I’ve noticed a reduced tolerance for faff in myself since having children. These days I’m looking for greater efficiency at work and I really value my days off.”

Have you noticed a trend towards more flexible working conditions?
“Definitely. With improvements in technology and the use of laptops there’s been a clear shift enabling people to work all over the country instead of just in London.  We use Skype and teleconferencing for meetings too. I think it’s resulted in a greater diversity of thought and experience as employers can cast their net wider when looking for staff.”

Are there many women in the Senior Civil Service?
“Senior civil servants only form 1.3% of the total number of civil servants in the UK (approximately 415,000). There are around 5000 people in the Senior Civil Service and roughly 43% of those are women. This is a huge increase from 17% back in 1996.” (Source: Institute for Government).

What advice would you give to the girls at school now?
“I would say, ‘do what you love and see where it takes you. Follow your interests and passions.’ It’s great to have an idea of where you want to go but be flexible. You cannot control everything in your life and it’s helpful to get used to that idea early on. 

I originally applied to the Foreign Office - which is a long application process. Then I met my partner Zac and felt really happy and settled with my life in London. I didn’t like the thought of suddenly being posted to somewhere like Kazakhstan and decided that that particular lifestyle was no longer for me. So I changed my posting and was drafted to work on domestic policy at the Home Office.”

What did your first role entail?
“My first role in the Home Office was to work on developing sexual violence policy.  We helped increase the number of SARCs (sexual assault referral centres) in the UK which enable victims to get all the help and advice they need in one place. It was so satisfying to be making a difference in such a sensitive area.”

What other roles have you held?
“I have had a variety of roles across the justice sector, including seven years at HM Courts and Tribunal Services. Until last year I was responsible for operational policy for the criminal courts - areas such as reducing waiting times for witnesses and increasing the use of technology in court processes.  I always thought I’d be working in an organisation outside of government and ‘poke’ them from outside but I love being part of policy making.”

Which department are you in now?
“A year ago I moved to be a senior civil servant at the Legal Aid Agency, part of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). There are two main parts to my role: I’m responsible for implementing Legal Aid policy in the organisation and advising ministers of operational changes. My other responsibility is to commission Legal Aid services from new providers using a tender process. It’s pretty interesting and delicate at times.”

Are you worried about job security in our unstable political climate?
“Well there’s lots of uncertainty surrounding the recent election but the UK Civil Service is a politically neutral part of Government
so we operate under whichever party is in power at the time.”

It’s great you come to the reunion. How did you feel about boarding at St Swithun’s?
“I loved my time at school. We had many quirky and wonderful teachers, like Mr Brewer and Mr Clarke, who made learning so interesting. Life in the dorms was brilliant too - full of silliness and ghost stories!  I have many fond memories of playing lacrosse with Miss Roberts and even travelling to Australia and the Czech Republic for the European and World Lacrosse Championships. I used to take part in the inter-house music competitions, school productions and I even sang Motown music in a soul band with WinCol.  My family was extremely impressed with the facilities at St Swithun’s; especially Harvey Hall, the new Performing Arts Centre.”

What did St Swithun’s instil in you then?
“A sense of confidence and a ‘you can do that’ mentality.”

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