MBL Speaks to Gina Abercrombie Winstanley Ambassador to Malta
Ambassador Winstanley Shares Her Insights on Life and Career
By DeNeen Attard
Women of color are excelling in a variety of careers in spectacular locations around the world. One such woman is Ms. Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, currently serving as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Malta located in the Mediterranean Sea.
During a recent visit to the island of Malta, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Ms. Abercrombie-Winstanley.
Our conversation varied from the sites of the island to her role as U.S. Ambassador and tips for bad hair days. Yes, ladies we did discuss hair! Trust me─ relaxer or no relaxer, keeping your hair polished and professional can be a challenge for any woman in the humidity that is synonymous with summers on the island of Malta. Not to worry, you can learn more about Ms. Abercrombie-Winstanley and her role as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Malta in our “Q & A” at the close of this article.
“……..choosing a life partner is perhaps the most important decision you will make in your adult life.”
Well poised and elegant, she a stunning woman who commands your attention by her sheer presence, but it is her intelligence and inviting personality that keep you engaged. This African-American woman has and continues to make great strides in the U.S. government and around the world. Some of her accomplishments include:
• Director of the Office of Egypt
• Political Officer in Tel Aviv
• Career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister-Counselor
• Recipient of Senior Performance Pay, Meritorious and Superior Honor Awards
As always, I hope that this article inspires you to live your best life everyday as you work towards achieving your goals. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and don’t let the negativity of others keep you from living your dream life. I extend my sincere gratitude and appreciation to U.S. Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley and her team who made this interview possible. I wish you all peace, happiness, and prosperity.
— Your Life Coach
DeNeen K. Attard
DA: 1. You recently spoke to young entrepreneurs in Malta at the Junior Chamber International (JCI Malta) Business Networking Seminar about the importance of networking. Can you share a few of your insights with My Beautiful Life’s readers?
AW: My first rule of successful networking is to get out and do it! Even for people who are not normally shy, it can be a challenge to put yourself out there, especially when you are talking about your goals, and your skills. I think people are genuinely interested, even when it is not a formal “networking” event. I have been able to make connections over the years between people interested in a similar goal or project and we have been able to help each other – I still rely on some of the connections I made when I first joined the Foreign Service, 27 years ago. The bottom line is, however, these informal connections can’t happen unless the information is shared. Get out there!
“My first rule of successful networking is to get out and do it!”
DA: 2. What similarities have you found between the lives of women in Malta and women in the US?
AW: Many! Women in Malta, as in the U.S., are striving to make full contributions to their communities while dealing with similar challenges: Equal work for equal pay, combating domestic violence, and ensuring full access to professional positions. Although Malta is a relatively conservative society, increasing numbers of women are joining the workforce. We all juggle the balance between family and work life. Malta is a highly educated society, and like the U.S., now graduates more women than men from university in an increasing number of fields. I have the pleasure of working with several senior women in the Maltese government on bilateral issues that will benefit women and therefore Maltese society in general.
DA: 3. Malta is an exceptionally beautiful Southern European country. Yet, it is small and maybe unknown to many Americans. Can you tell us some of your favorite things about Malta or what you find most compelling?
AW: The history of this small island is remarkable! From the numerous nations which left their imprint on the land, language, customs, and people, to the breathtaking natural landscapes. I am amazed at the number of historic U.S-Maltese connections representing our strong bilateral relationship. In 1783 Benjamin Franklin, in his capacity as U.S. Ambassador to France, designed and minted America’s first medal, “Libertas Americana,” to commemorate America’s Revolutionary War victory. Franklin gave all but one of these medals to French officials and members of the U.S. Congress. The sole remaining medal was presented to The Knights of Malta Grand Master Emmanuel de Rohan in thanks for the role some 1800 Maltese played in the war by enlisting in the French Navy during the United States’ War for Independence.
But perhaps the most enduring testimony of U.S-Maltese friendship can be found in the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his visit to battle weary Malta in 1943. His words are immortalized on the walls of the Palace in Valletta, which in part read: “In the name of the People of the United States of America, I salute the Island of Malta, its people and defenders, who, in the cause of freedom and justice and decency throughout the world, have rendered valorous service far above and beyond the call of duty. Under repeated fire from the skies, Malta stood alone but unafraid in the center of the sea, one tiny bright flame in the darkness – a beacon of hope for the clearer days which have come.”
In 1989, Malta was featured in the end of another war. During what would come to be called the Malta Summit, U.S. President George Bush and Soviet Union General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met in Malta just a few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall to declare an end to the Cold War.
DA: 4. What is the most rewarding project you have worked on, and why was it rewarding?
AW: I’ve had the opportunity to work on several, large and small. The United States stands in partnership with Malta on several important bilateral issues, including issues related to Mediterranean security. We work with the Maltese on a variety of security issues such as maintaining secure shipping channels, the screening of goods to prevent the shipment of illegal or dangerous materials, coordination on the enforcement of international sanctions, and confronting the evils of trafficking in persons. Moreover, the small projects can have great impact as well. Whether calling attention to the need to combat domestic violence by sponsoring workshops on how to increase the role of men in this important cause, raise awareness on the benefits of having women on company boards, or the need to integrate migrants fully into Maltese society, the U.S. Embassy here works to highlight and share American values.
Recently, the U.S. Embassy in Malta participated in the “It Gets Better” campaign. In support of Gay Pride Month/Week on June 19, together with the Malta Gay Rights Movement, I helped launch the U.S. Embassy-produced “It Gets Better” video. The goal of the video was to reiterate that no one should be harmed because of who they are or who they love. In the video a number of Maltese Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people spoke about their experience in “coming out,” and the challenges they faced. They served as mentors to LGBT individuals reassuring them that the bullying does end and “it does get better.” The strong support that the Embassy’s project received from the Government of Malta, members of the local Catholic Church, and the general public was overwhelming and very gratifying.
DA: 5. Please describe your typical day….
AW: It usually starts with exercise of some sort as Maltese food is delicious! Then, after reviewing communications from Washington and several internal meetings, I usually begin meetings with the Foreign Ministry, local officials, NGOs representatives or visits to the university or local schools. I also support U.S. businesses and provide support, through our Consular Section, to U.S. citizens who are living or visiting here in Malta. I also try to have language lessons each week as speaking the local language can only enhance one’s diplomatic effectiveness. The Department of State requires language proficiency from our Diplomats and we all try to get two or three under our belts. Maltese grammar is based on Semitic languages so my Hebrew and Arabic language background has helped enormously in my studies. In the evenings, I represent the United States at National Day receptions, cultural events and other official gatherings. One thing that makes my experience as an Ambassador very different from most of my colleagues in different countries is that many Maltese official events start with Mass, so I and my fellow Ambassadors (Christian or not) spend a great deal of time in church!
DA: 6. What is the one thing you wish more people understood about your role?
AW: There is no greater privilege, in my view, than representing your country abroad. I am the United States’ senior official representative in Malta, but every U.S. citizen who comes in contact with a foreigner, whether abroad or in the United States, is performing the same role as me. We are, by trying to be the best of what the United States represents, making admirers and hopefully friends for our nation. It’s a role I took up enthusiastically.
Many in the United States are now aware of the dangers that diplomats like the military, face in our service to the nation. Every Ambassador keeps uppermost in mind the safety and security of those who serve at U.S. Missions abroad. But none of us in the Foreign Service do it alone. As is true for our military colleagues, every posting takes a toll on the family you are uprooting to travel with you, or the family that you have to leave behind for security, professional, schooling, health or other reasons. The costs, either way, can be considerable.
DA: 7. What is the most satisfying thing about your job?
AW: It doesn’t get better than knowing that the work we do here at U.S. Embassy Valletta helps forward the foreign policy goals, interests, and priorities of our nation. The team I lead here are among the best professionals in the world. Our locally engaged staff –along with our U.S. diplomats– know that our goal is to maintain and improve the bilateral relationship between the United States and Malta – a member of the European Union. We do this on a people-to-people level via government-to-government channels, and through our many outreach efforts and exchange programs such as the Fulbright program, the International Visitor Leadership Program, the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship.
DA: 8. What advice would you give other women interested in pursuing a career in your field?
AW: Get a solid education. Ensure that you excel at communication, both written and oral. Learn a language. Know your country! After all, one of the joys/challenges of representing The United States abroad is being expected to know everything about our political and social history, sports, art and geography. Visit the Department of State website (www.state.gov) to review information about the various career options and practice the Foreign Service exam before taking it. And take the exam. It is challenging and so, too, is this career. But if you ask most of us, we’d pay to do it. Finally, know that we want you. The Department of State puts a premium of having a foreign service that looks like America.
DA: 9. What was the best career advice you received?
AW: The expected: do what you love. If you love to travel, if you love to write and speak publicly, this job is for you. If you’re passionate about any number of international issues, whether it is food security, supporting refugees, democracy and human rights, climate change, countering terrorism, educational exchanges, LGBT rights, or helping to address any one of too many regional conflicts, there is a place for you here at State to have an incredibly rewarding professional life and extremely exciting personal one.
DA: 10. How do you find work/ life balance in such a demanding career?
AW: I agree with those who have recognized that choosing a life partner is perhaps the most important decision you will make in your adult life. My husband and I have a partnership. There are times when I put in 80-90% of what is needed on the home front and there are times when he has to. It’s true we, like most working couples have had those tense discussions about whose schedule was more important to keep that week…, but both of us recognized early on the need to be fundamentally flexible. What that means in practice for me is that I bring home the list of possible future posts that make sense for me professionally, he reviews them for what makes most sense for him to find meaningful work and we select. He has absolute veto power over an assignment and when he says he’s had enough of the traveling life WE are done. For him, when I had to tell him, twice, that he had to collect our two small children, quit his job and set up home temporarily (find them new schools, friends, pet substitutes and stand in for mommy) he gave me a promise, a kiss and made the separations –one over a yearlong– work.
We have deepened this partnership through 31 years of marriage, two children, three cats, one dog, and lots of adventure.
Photo Credits: Matthew Mirabelli, Times Of Malta, US Embassy Malta
Writer, in demand, speaker and Certified Professional Life Coach and Belief Therapist DeNeen Attard combines her training with humor, hard truths and compassion to empower others to achieve personal growth, healthy relationships and success in business. DeNeen is a native Hoosier with degrees in Management and Organizational Communication. DeNeen readily admits that she is an information junkie who also enjoys spa days, traveling and spending time with her husband Daniel.