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One is the loneliest number

01 October 2013

GBA Class 2013

I was going to talk about Mr Abbott’s cabinet - in fact his whole inner and outer ministry and the dearth of women in his government… but it’s so maddening I’ve decided not to depress myself by dwelling on the Coalition’s lack of diversity and to look at some reasons why such a situation might happen.

It’s not that I think the other side is doing a whole lot better but they did give us, for one brief moment, a female Prime Minister.

And she, who is typing her own memoir, is what brings me to the hideous nature of the double standards surrounding being a woman in politics - in fact being a woman just about anywhere, and why I think it sometimes turns women off stepping up.

When a woman gets a job and, for whatever the reason, she is unsuccessful, people use that failure as proof of the fact that women shouldn’t be in those roles because they’re not suitable.

Now, think about a man in the same position? He fails and another man takes his place – because, after all, it was just that particular man who wasn’t suitable.

Double standards.

As for why there are so few women in politics? There’s the growing argument that no woman in her right mind would choose to do it because the treatment by the system, the party, the public and the media is so appalling. Why put yourself through it.

It’s an argument that’s looking pretty strong, and the outcome is how do you build a pipeline of women candidates if there are none coming through the ranks or being given the opportunities to progress?

How do you attract the multitude of bright smart women out there to be the top class leaders I know they are?

I am convinced they are out there because we have our next 100 Women of Influence and in the search for them we have gone outside our own backyards and safe networks to uncover not just the usual suspects, the women we all rely on to be there and act for us, but so many others whose influence in their communities, whose leadership and abilities, are worth applauding and acknowledging and taking a punt on.

Certainly, the power of women’s markets and the potential for women to lead a global economic recovery is spreading like wildfire if we look overseas. I’ve just returned from the Global Banking Alliance for Women in Istanbul, Turkey. Postponed from June to September because of the unrest in the country back then, the summit was held right on Taksim Square where the protests had taken place and even while we were there, things were not completely calm.

For us, though, inside the conference there was a different sort of buzz. The excitement and commitment of the fast growing number of member banks to supporting the female economy and women’s business initiatives was palpable.

I am 62 years old and I have been pushing back on male and institutional opposition to women and developing women’s markets for a long time now. It can be hard work, and like the women of the LNP must be feeling, it can be very disheartening when things go backwards or progress slows. So imagine my excitement at the level of thought and effort these world-playing banks and institutions, such as the US State Department, which also attended the summit this year, are taking to understand and connect with women’s markets and the female economy. It left me re-energised.

I also want to welcome my colleagues from Westpac, Rachel Slade (General Manager, AFS Transformation and Delivery) and Lisa Ronson (head of Mass Marketing Services, AFS Marketing Mass Marketing Services), onto the GBA. It’s so important that more women and young women get involved. Fresh ideas and new energy can’t help but reinvigorate and add to what has already been achieved.

During the time in Istanbul, which, having read Dan Brown’s Inferno, I felt I knew even before I got there, we could either visit the Spice or Grand Bazaars. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I don’t cook so the Spice Bazaar wasn’t calling me.

With 61 covered streets and more than 3000 shops selling what your heart might desire, it was the Grand Bazaar that beckoned.

I took so many photos, and for the first time really got into Facebook. Every day I’d check what my daughters were up to and post updates for them and pictures from my iPad. I quickly realised how amazingly connected and safe it makes you feel to be able to check in and check-up.

I have to admit though. I failed iPad video 101.

Before I left my girls had given me a little lesson on how I could take videos on the iPad, not just photos. And I was ready to put my new skill to use out on the Bosphorus for an evening dinner cruise while we were in Istanbul. The red light on, I studiously videoed the sites and had hours of footage. I hadn’t missed a thing. In fact I’d been so engrossed in my task that the next morning a number of people asked me where I’d disappeared to during the night. Videoing I told them, proudly whipping out my iPad to show them my films… and to my horror, there was nothing there. (Bit like Tony’s cabinet.)

It turned out I had not turned on the video. The red light must be blinking for the camera to be rolling, so to speak. Imagine the embarrassment and the tears of laughter as my colleagues and I mimicked my purposeful stance of the night before on the boat, iPad poised and pointed at the sites.

Ah, well, it gives me the perfect excuse to return to Turkey.



  • Louise Upton

    Louise Upton 6 years ago

    Hi Vicki, I agree there are women of excellence in all areas of politics but not enough and it is the amount of women coming through that appears to have changed. Why has the pipeline become a drizzle?

  • Christine Tonkin

    Christine Tonkin 6 years ago

    It seems to me that the cause of woman in leadership in Australia is a losing one. Having lived in Australia, Belgium, Ireland, Denmark, Austria, Sudan and Canada. I have seen a world of difference between the situations of women in society and in leadership. When I was leaving high school in the early 1970s, women in Australia were only just getting ostensibly equal pay for equal work. It gave me a sense of outrage because I knew that I was no less capable and no less worthy of equal pay. Given the sentiment of that time I envisaged a world where woman would be equal in every way with men in our country within a few years. Now forty years later I see that the government of this country can only find ONE sufficiently meritorious woman within its ranks to be part of the inner Cabinet. Now I relive the feeling of outrage of my teens but have none of the optimism of youth to envisage that change is in the wind any time soon. Having worked in what was a non traditional field for women - public procurement, I know that change only comes about where there are woman in leadership roles who see ways in which woman can make a significant contribution and who adjust their vision of the required capabilities accordingly. Women in leadership roles recruit people with those capabilities including meritorious women. When I first entered the field of public procurement in 1996, men dominated the field in Australia and its leadership. By the time I left the field in Australia in 2004, in my organization, not only were woman equally represented, they were also equally represented in management roles. Transformation of the field of public procurement required strong research, analytical and problem solving skills as well as general commercial acumen. It did not require the seniority of supposedly meritorious males who had always done things in a certain way and who had kept their seats warm for those men who would not upset the status quo by doing things differently. Without more woman in leadership we will see more men keeping their seats warm for the seat-warming men to follow - it makes for entropy in our system of government, in commercial life and in our society. Recently on a trip to London I had dinner with a young woman who I recruited as a graduate straight from a university in Queensland. She is now in a leadership role in the office of the CEO of one of the worlds largest listed companies. She was recruited by me because of her obvious capability - unproven at that stage but now I can readily see her filling with big feet firmly planted on the ground, the CEOs shoes. May all women in leadership live long enough to see the capable, totally meritorious women we recruit do great things and transform our world for the better.

  • Phil Madden

    Phil Madden 6 years ago

    Seems you are moving in the wrong circles. To expect your colleagues (female) to fail is extraordinary. In all cases of my female contemporaries who still call themselves what they are and do what they do they are achieving stellar success and highly placed. Should not your message be "Persevere!'

  • Vicki Sauvage

    Vicki Sauvage 6 years ago

    Hello Lark, it seems we have several things in common, including how many years we have been on this planet. Like you I am very concerned about the lack of women representation in the current Australian Parliament. I also wonder at the skewed power which is now invested with or in the fifth estate. I also wonder where conscience and good journalism intersect with the fifth estate. If particularly the people who disgorge, bile, vitriol, and unfounded commentary in the name of public interest are bound by the same principles of journalistic excellence, balanced reportage and investigative skills that some of their print-based colleagues are. I guess that we all had to make them accountable. So those women of influence whether they consider themselves feminists or not need to take the issue up to the parliamentarians. I cannot believe, NO I will not believe that there are no women of excellence in the Liberal National party coalition!