By Orita Bailey
Ambassador Lolita Applewhaite, Deputy Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), holds a Masters in International Public Policy from the School of Advanced International Studies, the Johns Hopkins University, Washington, D.C., USA and is a graduate of the Institute of Political Studies of the University of Aix-Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, France.
In celebration of International Women’s Day 2012 Kittivisian Life is profiling one of the region’s foremost women in public service. As Deputy Secretary-General of CARICOM Ambassador Lolita Applewhaite is probably the highest ranked female public servant. We wanted to gain an insight into what it takes to attain such a position and by sharing her experiences with us we believe that the Ambassador will help to encourage young women to aim high in their aspirations.
Ambassador Applewhaite has a wealth of experience in International Relations, Administration and Policy Formulation. Before joining the CARICOM Secretariat in July 2003, she served in the Barbados Diplomatic Service for over twenty years, holding postings in North America and Europe before concluding as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Barbados to Venezuela and to Brazil in 1992.
Ambassador Applewhaite has also served as Permanent Secretary in the Barbados Public Service in Ministries of the Environment, Tourism, International Transport, Education, Youth Affairs and Culture.
She acted as Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) from 1 January 2011 to 14 August 2011.
Ambassador Applewhaite is unmarried and has no children.
Kittivisian Life( KL)
Could you please tell us where you work and what is your current position?
Lolita A: I am Deputy Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), based at the CARICOM Secretariat in Georgetown, Guyana.
KL: What does that role entail? What is an average day like if there is such a thing?
LA: The Deputy Secretary-General supervises the corporate services of the Secretariat, including the management of the human resources and the moblisation of financial resources and technical assistance, and provides programme coordination. She also deputises for the Secretary-General when necessary. A normal day consists of internal meetings and meetings with external entities as well as desk work and some representational work within Georgetown.
Travel is sometimes required for consultations and meetings, mostly within but sometimes outside of the Region. On those occasions, office work continues, thanks to available technology.
KL: Was it always your intention to be a career civil servant? Had you considered other careers?
LA: I have never contemplated any other career choice.
KL: Did the choices you made for your education lead to this career?
LA: I knew from a child what career I wanted and set about preparing myself for it starting with studies in Political Science in France, immediately after leaving school in Barbados.
KL: Chart you career path for us?
LA: After University I joined the Barbados Foreign Service, starting as a Second Secretary in our High Commission in Ottawa and after several postings at progressively higher levels, was appointed Barbados’ Ambassador to Venezuela and to Brazil. Following that I served as Permanent Secretary in various Ministries in Barbados.
KL: You are probably the highest ranking female in the CARICOM Secretariat, what have been the challenges to attaining that position?
LA: The experience I gained in the Foreign Service and in the Public Service of Barbados placed me in good stead to assume and carry out the functions of CARICOM Deputy Secretary-General.
KL: Do you think that there has been a glass ceiling to breakthrough in your career?
LA: There has been a glass ceiling, but we have come a long way from the days when men dominated the public service at the higher levels in our countries. All around the Caribbean women are in the vanguard in several entities in both the public and private sectors. In my own career, in the Barbados Foreign Service and Public Service, women have progressively risen to the top of their career in my generation. This has accelerated over the years and will no doubt continue.
KL: Have you ever had to change jobs to break through the glass ceiling?
KL: CARICOM has never had a female Secretary General – except for your time as Acting Secretary-General last year – why do you think that is the case?
LA: That is perhaps one last bastion that women have to conquer, as with some other international organisations, and I am confident that they have the ability to do it.
KL: Women in more developed countries have struggled with the work/life balance for many years; do you think Caribbean women are willing to take on the challenges and sacrifices necessary to attain top positions?
LA: I do not think that Caribbean women are any different from women in any other part of the world; there is nothing that they cannot accomplish and those willing to take on the challenges and make any necessary sacrifices will of course succeed.
KL: What sacrifices have you had to make in your family life if any to attain this high position?
KL: We know that in most organisations/institutions women make up the highest percentage of the workforce at the lower levels, why do you think men rise in the ranks higher and faster?
LA: Men rise higher and faster because of the way our society is structured. But, as I said earlier, many women have risen to high positions in the Caribbean having come through the ranks. I believe that many more will do so as they take on the challenges necessary.
KL: What advice would you give to young women at the start of their careers? When would you advise them to start planning?
LA: One should follow one’s dream. Find out one’s passion and go for it because whether it is well paid or not, it is important to enjoy and get satisfaction from an activity that is going to consume a great part of one’s life. You need to leverage your unique strengths. Finally, I would say enjoy the journey; don’t just wait to get to the destination!
I have found that there is no substitute for planning and it should start as early as possible. At high school and certainly by University I had a pretty good idea about the goals I wanted to pursue in life. The specifics of a plan may change from day to day but a plan has to be there to support every action.
KL: Despite the position of women traditionally as head of households in our region, why do you think it is that we still seem to be a patriarchal society?
LA: It is true that we are still a patriarchal society. However, women as heads of households, as heads of public and private sector entities, have made great strides in contributing as equal partners to society. This can only continue.
KL: What’s in the future for you, career wise?
LA: I will be returning to Barbados at the end of my stint as Deputy Secretary-General during the course of this year and my current plans do not include continuing my career.
We thank Ambassador Applewhaite for taking time out of her busy schedule to speak with us and wish her a happy International Women’s Day and a joyful and fulfilling retirement when it comes.