For a long time, we Americans have come to assume that the British royal family is mostly about ceremony—they put on a good show while the real government does its work. But Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have never been content with just keeping up appearances. Their latest staffing news, the appointment of Fiona Mcilwham to be their private secretary, might be another sign they’re putting actions behind their words.
Mcilwham’s hiring was first reported by the Daily Mail and has not yet confirmed by the House of Sussex, but it hasn’t been denied either, so we’re going to assume it’s true. The private secretary position is similar to a chief of staff.
This hiring means all of the Sussex’s senior staff are women—highly accomplished ones at that. It’s a first for any royal family.
Their deputy private secretary, Heather Wong, used to be deputy assistant of public affairs for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President Obama. Sarah Latham, their chief of communications, also worked for Obama, as well as for Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Actually, Mciwham is also replacing a woman, Queen Elizabeth’s former assistant private secretary Samantha Cohen, who was only in the position temporarily. Mcilwham’s background is in diplomacy, and she served as ambassador to Albania in 2009, becoming one of the youngest ambassadors in the U.K.
But again we have reason to think that hiring these women at the top is about more than just appearances.
The Daily Mail points out that Mcilwham has a history of working for women’s rights. As she helps plan Harry and Meghan’s trip to Africa in the fall, she might be making an extra effort to highlight the plight of women and girls on the continent, as well as organizations helping them. All of this would be quite in line with both Sussexes’ efforts thus far to promote equality throughout the world, not just in their household.
Markle was referring to the now much-repeated story of how she wrote a letter to Proctor & Gamble as a girl, complaining that their dish soap commercials only showed women cleaning. Later, while she was starring on Suits, she became a UN Women’s Advocate for Women’s Political Participation and Leadership. She also worked with an organization in India that gives women and girls access to “menstrual hygiene products.” (That’s how her royal bio puts it, and we’re pretty sure that’s the first time that phrase has been uttered with regard to the royal fam.) She made it a point to highlight a quote calling herself a “proud woman and a feminist” in that official bio too.
In her charitable duties, the Duchess has taken steps to promote organizations like Smart Works, which helps women prepare to enter the workforce with appropriate attire and training.
We also know that a woman like Markle wouldn’t settle for anything less than a feminist husband. Even before they began dating, Harry was speaking up for women’s rights too.
Making royal visits and hiring more women is a great start. What will the feminist royals do next to further their mission?