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Lunch with the Bishop
09 March 2016
On a warm Sydney Autumn day more than 1300 women and a smattering of men gathered for a lunch hosted by Westpac in the Cutaway at Barangaroo Reserve to celebrate IWD and to voice their thoughts on gender equality. (Click on facebook for more.)
The concrete space under the rebuilt headland, dressed in banners paying homage to past, present and future women of influence, reflected the huge theatre of female achievement in this country as did the audience. Among the guests were Members of Parliament, such as The Hon Pru Goward, Federal Court Judge Annabelle Bennett and the indomitable Aunty Ann Weldon from the Metropolitan Aboriginal Land Council board. Ann delivered the Welcome to Country as well as an introduction to the Aboriginal woman after whom the area is named, Barangaroo.
A Cammeraygall woman, Barangaroo was a protector and keeper of Aboriginal culture in the early days of the colony. Her strength, courage and fortitude is remembered and celebrated in Indigenous culture and firmly acknowledged by the Barangaroo precinct in its history.
This year’s International Women’s Day pledge is for parity – that is, the full utilisation and equal pay of women in the workforce. In 2016, neither of these two states yet exists for women in Australia, let alone women globally.
Organisations like Westpac and the NSW State Public Service have begun setting themselves bold targets around workplace flexibility, women in management and addressing pay gaps in an attempt to significantly and adequately make inroads into creating gender parity. However, as business dynamo and IWD lunch guest Ann Sherry put it: if we are to achieve parity we have to actively decide what we want, set bold targets and measure the activity and outcomes.
The Hon Julie Bishop, MP (above), delivered the keynote speech, in which she focussed on her role as Foreign Affairs Minister and the achievements and work she has been doing in the portfolio. On a personal level as Australia’s first female Foreign Affairs Minister, the big takeout for the audience was: “Dream Big. Aim High”.
Julie was then joined on a panel by Executive Chairman of Carnival Australia and top Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence winner, Ann Sherry, as well as sport’s woman and Melbourne Cup winning jockey Michelle Payne.
Moderated by Westpac Group CEO Brian Hartzer, the panel discussion focussed on how and why we need to achieve equality, most specifically parity for women in business, sport and government. It was here that the tips and advice from three women at the top of their games flowed freely.
Julie Bishop acknowledged that having women in Cabinet changes the conversation and alters the discussion. Her tip: if you want to be heard and acknowledged in a meeting you need your colleagues to back you up vocally and noisily – clapping, for example, she noted humorously, helps the men in the room notice you and what you’ve said.
On a wider more serious point her UN work has taught her that in areas of conflict if you want to build peace then women must be engaged in the process at every level.
Many women in corporate life - no matter what the organisations says it is doing - do not believe they have the same opportunities as their male colleagues. The question of why, fell to Ann to answer.
Established organisations, she believes, have history and solid cultures and suffer “the drag of the past”. The challenge is to change the status quo – to not buy into the belief that existing ways are the right way. It’s also very important that those at the top are in touch with the reality of the business and not espousing something totally at odds with what is actually happening in the organisation.
Ann also quoted that with just 1 in 50 men taking paid parental leave there is no reason for the existing dynamic in business, in the home and community to change and what that does is to leave demands around flexibility as a women’s issue.
And so to the goose-bump moment of watching jockey Michelle Payne win the Melbourne Cup in 2015. The first female jockey to ride in the race and the first to win the Cup, Brian pointed out she must also be in one of the few sports in which men and women go head to head with one another. For Michelle becoming a role model has brought with it new responsibilities and has opened the door to long needed change in the sport. Riding, she says, is not about brute strength but about technique, and much more that is not gender based. Her top career tip is to “stick at it” and when she had to sum up what she would like to achieve, she was quick to answer “win it again”.
Ann’s career advice was “always seek forgiveness not permission”, and Julie’s: back your own judgement and instincts and your own work, and don’t let others define you.
Summing up their achievements Julie noted hers would be better judged with the benefit of hindsight and history but that her Aid Program and Foreign Affairs work supporting and empowering women is something of which she is very proud.
Ann succinctly noted her win for paid maternity leave when she was at Westpac as a highlight, as well as the work she now does through her role at Carnival Australia increasing employment and commercial opportunities for women in the Pacific.
A final question from Brian to Julie, asked what her Cabinet would look like if she was Prime Minister in 2020? Her diplomatic answer: whoever is PM in 2020, must have a Cabinet of 50 percent women.