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Women in business and politics - quotas and targets

04 November 2014

Julie Bishop Westpac Bicentennial Foundation

“Should there be any vacancies, I will certainly be pushing for greater female representation in cabinet,” noted the Deputy Leader of the Federal Liberal Party, Julie Bishop (above), in an interview with The Weekend Australian, recently.

Following the appointment of eight women to the new Indonesian Government’s cabinet, the media had a bit of a field day drawing comparisons between Australia and Indonesia but I have a theory about being promoted when the time is right.

I certainly believe targets are important and diversity is essential but I won’t go to being a quota girl. I believe the best person needs to be chosen for the job and we all need to get there based on merit. Quotas don’t always ensure that this is the case.

Firstly, I think we have step back from the numbers and actually look at what is being done to give women the experiences they need to go for the roles. The strategies are in place to create and widen the pipeline but they do need time to fruit. Junior ministers have to gain experience before they step up, and in business, women are being supported through to levels such as General Manager and from there are beginning to climb further. It’s no good setting people up to fail – promoting for the sake of achieving a number and not for the sake of achieving long-term, robust structural change.

Secondly, I can’t imagine a single one of our 300 Women of Influence wanting to support the next generation to fail? It’s why they spend so much time mentoring and teaching and “nurturing”, getting younger women into the roles where they can gain and benefit from their experiences.

Back on the topic of Julie Bishop: no one can deny she’s been a hard worker and has certainly begun to make a real mark both at home and on the global stage. I find it fascinating when I think of who has been occupying these big global relationship roles in the past few years: Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, Julie Bishop. They are the sort of women who, because of their influence and experience, wield tremendous power. (Most recently in The Australian, this headline: “Blow for Hockey as cabinet National Security Committee backs Bishop on Asian bank,” would appear to uphold the power theory.)

As our Ruby of the Month, the Australian Women’s Weekly Editor in Chief Helen McCabe points out, Power is not just about who takes your call if you ring them but who rings you for advice. In the end it was why Helen and her team of judges put Julie Bishop at the top of their inaugural 50 Most Powerful Women list.

So who did the Foreign Minister identify as worthy of cabinet: three junior ministers, MP Sussan Ley, senator Michaelia Cash and senator Marise Payne.

Michaelia Cash was recently a guest at the Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence dinner and awards night in October at which there was a cross to the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and some words of encouragement including on his paid parental leave scheme.

Michaelia is Assistant Minister for Immigration and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women. Marise Payne is Minister for Human Services. Sussan Ley is Assistant Education Minister.

A fourth woman, Nationals senator Fiona Nash, who is Assistant Health Minister, also got the Bishop’s blessing.

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