Jonathan Knott

Former British ambassador to Hungary, Budapest

Part of UK in Hungary

12th March 2015 Budapest, Hungary

Ladies and… ladies

Guest blog by Theresa Bubbear, Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Budapest.

It’s not often that I have a good idea.  And when I heard myself suggesting a speed mentoring event to mark International Women’s Day this year I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea or a crazy one. It was certainly in line with this year’s theme, which  was “women’s economic empowerment and supporting women to achieve their potential”. But would anyone be interested in mentoring?  Would we find any willing mentees? How did speed mentoring work? Could we really make it happen?  My heart told me that this could be a huge success.  My head disagreed.

I was wrong to worry about the concept (although right to be concerned about the logistics).  On the bus one morning I wrote a list of all the ladies I know – Ambassadors, business leaders, journalists, MPs, women’s rights campaigners – and started writing to ask for their help.  The replies came back so quickly and so positively that I only had to approach the first few people on my back-of-an-envelope list and suddenly I had 13 amazing mentors.  We then approached a few organisations which help young women as they start their careers: Romedia, which works to give Roma people a voice in the media and to promote Roma rights and culture; the Tom Lantos Institute which works for human and minority rights; and the Milestone Institute, which aims to “educate beyond borders and make a difference inside them”.  We also offered our Facebook followers the opportunity to bid for places and selected 3 participants from the many who applied.  On the evening of 10 March we had a more than 30 eager mentees jostling to sign up for multiple 10 minute mentoring sessions and lining up to have their photos taken with the mentors.

Participants of the speed mentoring event eager to get started.
Participants of the speed mentoring event eager to get started.

I kicked off the evening by telling the mentors and mentees about the people who had inspired and supported me in my career – family, friends, colleagues, formal mentors, and those who would be surprised to know that a word of encouragement had been remembered over the years.  I still work with a mentor (currently the country manager of a British company working in Hungary) and I have mentored many other people, hoping to encourage and inspire as others have encouraged and inspired me.  I have learnt something from every mentoring session I have ever had – whether as mentor or mentee, and I promised the ladies that they would all learn something during the evening.

Deputy Head of Mission Theresa Bubbear welcoming the participants of the speed mentoring event.
Deputy Head of Mission Theresa Bubbear welcoming participants of the speed mentoring event.

The sessions themselves went like clockwork, ably policed by my colleague Evi with a bell to signal the start and end of each session.  In the comfortable surroundings of the Ambassador’s residence ladies chatted, laughed, and asked amazing questions.  I had to think about how I had balanced my working life with my three daughters, which books had influenced me (answer below), whether I would advise someone to study French or Russian (answer: both), whether the rules of grammar really matter, and what were the most important lessons I had learned.  The mentees were shy at first, but warmed up as the evening went on, inspired and emboldened by the advice of their mentors.  Many of them came to tell me what they had learned (everything from not having to choose between a career and family to turning off the IT at bedtime!).  And many have since written to say thank you, to tell me how much they enjoyed the evening, and to ask me to hold another event.  The mentors, who were mentoring non-stop throughout the evening, also learned a great deal.  Again, they are writing to say how inspired they were by the event and how much they learned themselves from the enthusiasm and openness of the mentees. One senior (Hungarian) business lady who helped us as a mentor asked for details of the organisations who had nominated the mentees: “I was very interested and positively surprised that there are organisations helping Roma women find their way.  I would like to continue supporting them.”

Mentees had the chance to have 10 minutes sessions with their selected mentors.
Mentees had the chance to have 10 minutes sessions with their selected mentors.

I haven’t decided how we can build on this success, but I still have my back-of-an-envelope list of possible mentors, and I now know that there is an endless supply of mentees.  We can make a real difference.  And I look forward to the next time I am able to start a welcome speech by saying “Ladies and…. ladies”.

And the answer to the question: Le Père Goriot by Balzac and Anna Karenina by Tolstoy.  Nicely gender balanced!

You can find more pictures about the event at our Facebook page.

About Jonathan Knott

Jonathan Knott was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Hungary in March 2011 and arrived in Budapest in February 2012 to take up his post. He left this post on April…

Jonathan Knott was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to
Hungary in March 2011 and arrived in Budapest in February 2012 to take
up his post. He left this post on April 2015.
He has previously held a variety of diplomatic posts at home and
abroad, several with a particular focus on commercial and corporate
finance issues. Jonathan has served in a number of positions in the
British Diplomatic Service since joining in 1988:
Before his appointment was Deputy Head of Mission and Director for Trade and Investment in South Korea from 2008 to 2011.Between 2005 and 2008 he held the post of Deputy Finance Director in the FCO.From 2000 to 2005 he served as First Secretary (Trade, Corporate Affairs and Finance Negotiator) in UKDel OECD Paris.From 1996 to 2000 he was First Secretary (Head of Political/Economic/Aid Section) in Mexico.From 1995 to 1996 he worked in the FCO as Deputy European Correspondent at the EU Directorate.Between 1991 and 1995 he served as Third later Second Secretary (Political / Press and Public Affairs) in Havana.From 1990 to 1991 he was Desk Officer in the FCO’s First Gulf War Emergency Unit.Between 1988 and 1990 he worked as Desk Officer in the FCO in the Anti Drugs Cooperation Department.
Jonathan holds an MA in law from Oxford University, and he is a
member of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. He speaks
English, French, Spanish and Hungarian. He is married to Angela Susan
Knott and has one daughter and two sons.

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