*Dame Anne Owers Career Reading*
Anne was the first female Chief Inspector of Prisons and is currently
chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. She is strongly
driven by her values and has clearly held views relating to those on the
fringes of our society.
She grew up in a small coal mining community in the North East of England,
and she and her cousins were the first in their family to ever go to
University. Anne herself studied history at Girton College, Cambridge and
after this, travelled to Zambia to undertake teaching and research into
African history. She raised three children and maintained her skills by
undertaking voluntary advice and race relations work during this time. Later
she joined the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and was appointed
as its general secretary four years later. She went on to become Chairman of
Christian Aid and was appointed CBE for her human rights work in 2000 and
elevated to OBE in 2009.
Opportunity and responsibility are key themes in Anne’s narrative. When
talking about the fact that she and her cousins went to University, she said
it was not that they were especially different from her other family
members, but rather that an opportunity had become available to them that
was not there before. On a similar theme Anne spoke about her Father. Music
and writing were what he truly loved, but he worked as a joiner at the
shipyards and collieries. He pursued music with a passion in his spare time,
as conductor of the church choir and producer of musical theatres. Anne
reflected sadly that had he been born a generation or two later, he may have
had other opportunities and his life may have been very different.
Super says that we enact our lives in different theatres – home,
community, work and education. It seems that community was an incredibly
powerful force during Anne’s youth. The Methodist Church to which she
belonged formed the structure of her community and most of her social life
revolved around the church. When questioned about religion’s rules and
punishment, Anne said that she preferred the concept of responsibility. She
felt that a small close community creates boundaries and responsibility for
its members, and these are two values that she has taken with her into the
work theatre of her life.
When asked about her career, Anne says “I don’t think of myself as having
a career, rather just going from one interesting thing to another that
seemed right at the time”. It’s very interesting (and perhaps heartening)
that such a highly successful individual describes their career in this way.
I suspect that in reality, most of us move from one opportunity to the other
that seems right at the time, in the constantly changing scenery in the
theatre of our lives.
Holland might argue that Anne found these opportunities to be interesting
because they were so congruent with their identity and personality type.
Krumboltz might add that Anne’s observations about opportunity and her
reflection on her Father’s life might have created her world view about the
importance of seizing the opportunities that are available to you. When
speaking about prison and her interest in restorative justice, Anne
commented that “people can do hard work to change the narrative of their
In terms of an overall Systems Theory, Patton and McMahon may observe that
in the ‘individual’ realm, Anne’s career has been affected by her beliefs,
values and interests (moving “from one interesting thing to another”).
Moving out to the next layer, we see the following influences:
*Family* – Anne speaks many times about her family. She lost her Father
when she was 15 and her mother less than ten years later. She had her own
children in Zambia after completing her university studies, and accepts that
she did this to replace the family that she had lost.
*Globalisation* – Anne spent several years living and researching in
Zambia and has done a lot of work with migrants once returning to the UK. In
the interview she spoke passionately about the number of highly qualified
professional people that are forced to leave their own country to arrive in
the UK with no profession or social networks, and what this does to them as
*Community* – Anne believes that community has the potential to provide
responsibility and accountability to people.
*Political decisions* – In the interview, Anne laments that during the
time that she was Chief Inspector of Prisons, the number of inmates rose and
that this was influenced by the politics of the time. She felt that the
money spent on incarcerating these people would have been so much better
spent on preventing them ending up in prison in the first place. She doesn’t
say so in the interview, but perhaps this contributed to her move away from
that position and to be Chair of the Independent Police Complaints
I found it very interesting that Anne didn’t mention much the role of
gender or age in terms of her life so far. As a woman in her sixties I might
have expected some comment on this. She seems instead simply to have
absolute confidence that she has the skills to do the work in society that
needs to be done, and that she should just roll up her sleeves and get on
For this, I find her inspirational.