Iona Thomas

Iona wears our Cliveden dress in Cobalt, £198 (above)




Tell me about your childhood?

I had a very happy childhood, growing up abroad in Germany, Belgium and the States. I think that’s why I have always had an interest in living and working internationally, and is what led to me joining the Foreign Office. I have very fond memories of my childhood on the East Coast of the US – hot, sunny summers by the beach, pumpkins and trick or treating at Halloween, cold winters when school would be closed for the day and we’d go sledging or bake cookies instead.

In a nutshell, how would you describe your job?

As a diplomat, I divide my career between being posted to our Embassies overseas and spending time in London at the Foreign Office. Overseas, our job is to build relationships with other governments so we can work with them on shared challenges. In the UK, we work on developing UK foreign policy, providing advice to the Foreign Secretary and Ministers on different options for responding to international issues. In July, I will be moving to Pakistan to head up the Political Team at the High Commission there. I will be responsible for a broad range of issues including human rights, Afghanistan, counter-terrorism and migration. It will be a big portfolio but I’m excited about the challenge!

Run us through your typical working day?

At the moment, because I’m preparing for my overseas posting, I spend most of my time trying to learn as much about Pakistan and our policy towards Pakistan as possible. I’m doing a lot of reading and having meetings with different parts of government who all have an interest in our relationship with Pakistan. I’m trying to learn a bit of Urdu as well to help make meetings in Pakistan a bit easier. I’m also currently mentoring a few women in the office and so I often have phone calls with them to talk through issues they are facing at work. Because we are all spread throughout the world, it sometimes means having to juggle time differences and fit calls in when we can.

Iona wears our Sackville dress in Navy, £198 (right)


Tell me about your career highs and low?

One of my career highs was being awarded an OBE for my work on Libya. I was Deputy Ambassador to Libya from 2015-2017 and part of my role was to lead on re-establishing an office there after we had to evacuate in 2014 due to violence and conflict. It was an enormous challenge having to first set up a security team who could protect us there and then set up an office and accommodation – a real challenge against the backdrop of an economic, political and security crisis. Being given my OBE by the Queen (for which I wore a lovely Libby outfit!) was a very proud moment. One of my career lows was when I chose a job doing corporate change management in a government department. I took the job because I felt I needed to tick a box to show that I could do corporate projects. But I ended up with a boss I didn’t get on with and subject matter I found very dry. It was such a mistake and taught me the importance of choosing a job because it excites and interests you, not to tick a box!

What is your biggest weakness?

I’m naturally a problem-solver. I like to jump in and try to fix things. I’m learning that sometimes it’s more important to take a step back and think about the bigger picture before you try to fix the thing right in front of you as you don’t always understand the full context if you do that.

What piece of career advice would you give your 20 year old self?

I would reassure my twenty year old self that there is plenty of time to develop a career and not to rush into anything. We’re all going to be working for a large part of our lives and it’s so important to do something that interests and motivates you every day so take the time to work out what that is and go for it.

Iona wears our Belmont dress in Navy, £198, and Westminster jacket in Black, £198 (left)


What is your usual workwear style?

My workwear has varied a lot depending on the country I’m working in – in New York, working at the UN, it was quite formal, and I usually wore smart dresses and always a good pair of high heels. In Libya, I had to dress in a more culturally appropriate way and the security team were always anxious when I wore heels as they were worried in a crisis I wouldn’t be able to run – fortunately, that was never tested! In London, if I have a big meeting I always wear smart tailoring – usually a dress and jacket – and again a smart pair of shoes. I feel more in control and ready to face challenges when I’m happy with my outfit and am feeling smart.

Who is your style icon?

Audrey Hepburn – I love her elegant, simple style.

Tell me about your worst office fashion faux pas?

One winter in New York, we had weeks of freezing temperatures and snow. I got so tired of changing my footwear every time I arrived at meetings that I gave up and wore my furry, snowy boots into the Security Council. I looked around and realised I was the only one in snow boots – I definitely should have made the effort to change into my heels!

What’s your fantasy alternative job?

 

In another life, I would have loved to be a dancer. I did ballet, jazz and tap when I was younger and I have recently started taking Barre classes again which have reminded me how much I loved dancing and am keen to get back into a ballet studio.

Iona wears our Belmont dress in Navy, £198 (right)

What keeps you busy when you’re not in the office?

I love cooking and find it very relaxing after work to spend time in the kitchen making supper – it feels quite creative and uses a completely different part of my brain than work.


Have you mastered a good work-life balance?

It can be hard to achieve a good work-life balance, particularly overseas when there are many more evening and weekend diplomatic functions. I’ve learned over the past few years that it’s absolutely essential to establish some boundaries that mean you keep some time for yourself so that you can maintain your own resilience. Making sure I get to the gym, spend time with my husband and see friends are essential for me to recharge and be more effective at work.

What is your favourite Libby outfit at the moment?

I absolutely love the Devonshire jacket in Navy that I bought for my Investiture at Buckingham Palace which I wore with the Halkin dress in Teal. I now wear my jacket all the time for work as it’s very versatile and has a lovely, neat shape and silhouette.

Lastly, what is your key piece of advice for other women?

My advice to other women is not to be too hard on ourselves and to trust our instincts. Often we hold ourselves back because we think we’re not good enough or we’re worried about what other people think. But, if we let go of those concerns and trust our instincts, we usually find that we do have the ability and the answers.

Iona wears our Cliveden dress in Cobalt, £198 (left)

 

 

Photography: Mafalda Silva

Interview: Lilli Brant

Accessories: Iona's own

Location: Westminster, London near the Foreign & Commonwealth Office

 

 

 

 

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