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Julie Reilly

05 September 2012

“Women are under-represented in positions of power and influence and over-represented in areas of disadvantage,” quotes Julie Reilly, the recently appointed CEO of Australian Women Donors Network (AWDN). 

“I don’t believe gender should play a limiting part in determining the opportunities we get in life. I want my daughters to have access to every possible opportunity life, in education, in business, in politics – across the board,” she continues.

To achieve that, she believes, equality must be present at every level of our society and philanthropy is an integral part of redressing existing imbalance.

Take the rather shocking anecdote Julie has up her sleeve around inequity in medical research: “We have a tradition and history of fantastic medical research in this country and we have a glut of very bright young women coming out of science.

“Track the progress of those women and it soon becomes obvious they drop out in vast numbers, leaving the senior research ranks male dominated. There’s an incredible gender bias in the sector and donations, such as Naomi Milgrom’s recent one of $500,000 to the Howard Florey Institute, targeting senior women researchers, is an attempt to redress the balance.”

Julie continues: “The imbalance comes right back to the selection of test subjects. In US drug trials, many scientists avoid using female mice as test subjects citing fluctuating hormone levels as complicating factors - male mice allow for a more stable control group. This gender bias is magnified in human trials. These drugs – developed and tested in a way that has failed to apply even basic gender sensitivity – are then released onto the market for use by both sexes. That’s a failure at the most extreme end of the spectrum to apply the gender lens. A failure that could and has led to some very adverse consequences.”

Philanthropy is about redressing disadvantage and improving society. The Australian Women Donors Network has this at its core while also wanting to maximize the potential of women. A relatively new player in the not-for-profit arena, the individual members of AWDN’s 7-women-one-man board, as well as its new CEO, are not newcomers in the philanthropy space. They’re also well aware of the efficacy of investing in women and girls and their ability to build strong societies.

Why? Because the formal evidence that does exist (UN, World Bank and Goldman Sachs) shows when women do well their children do well, the community does well – there’s a multiplying effect, what’s been termed the ‘Girl Effect’.

According to a fact sheet put together for the Girl Effect site: little formal sustained research has been done to understand how investments in girls impact economic growth and the health and wellbeing of communities. However, overwhelmingly the evidence that does exist shows, if girls receive an education – 7 years if possible – they marry older, have fewer children, earn more money, and have better health – as do their children, who also usually receive an education. The really telling finding is if women and girls earn income (no matter what their level of education), they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man.  

The Women Donors Network, explains Julie, has done its own research with QUT Business School’s Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, Mapping Australia’s philanthropic investment in women and girls. The results indicate the amount of money being invested into the space is still relatively minor, about 12 percent based on its survey. The good news for AWDN is the more than a third of people surveyed were looking to increase their investment in women and girls.

“That makes our Online Project Showcase resource on the website so important,” says Julie. 

“It’s a fantastic listing in one place – of projects across every field – that focus on advancing women and girls. It’s a bit like ‘RSVP’ for donors – making the job of looking to get the right fit for their philanthropy dollar simpler.”

Julie herself has a history of involvement in philanthropic ventures. Her husband, Lindsay Field, is a musician and the Executive Producer for Myer’s Spirit of Christmas CD, and she has always played a part in the project. Then a few years ago, she began a masters in Philanthropy and Social Investment at Swinburne University in Melbourne, partly to pursue her interest in philanthropy in a very structured and intentional way, but also, she admits, as a bit of career shopping exercise. 

“I had no idea what opportunities existed in the sector. I was working in TV production, putting together segments that profiled and supported charities and individuals doing great things in the community. I realised it was doing those pieces, and my own private involvement in philanthropy, that gave me the buzz. Rather than my sense of social justice being something I did part time and outside my work life – which after all is where we spend the majority of our time – I thought, why not embrace it as a total career.” 

TV production, which Julie says she stumbled into following time in Public Relations and government, was exciting, challenging but hard to balance with family: “TV is a very young industry and it keeps you very young. I’d arrived in it – a woman in her forties filling in for someone for a couple of weeks – and ended staying five years. It was never going to be long-term but it taught me to hone my people skills and sharpened the ability to get a message across quickly, efficiently and clearly, using varied, integrated mediums.”

Keen to use those skills to sharpen the language around what AWDN does, honing its focus and better reaching its targets, Julie is quick to point out the only gender bias in the organisation is in the way it chooses to funnel funds. AWDN’s aim is to increase investment in projects that support women and girls and to encourage gender sensitive practice in mainstream funding. 

“That’s an odd concept for some people,” says Julie, “but it’s about mainstream funding taking into account the specific needs of both women and girls, and men and boys, ensuring donations are effective for both genders. It maximizes the potential of the donor and their donation.

“I grew up in a single parent, all girl family and went through the Catholic school system in the 60s and 70s. I’m very much a lapsed Catholic but that upbringing shaped my sense of social justice. I was really looking for something that allows me to contribute at a significant level to society and have time for my family,” explains Julie about the way AWDN ticked the boxes for her, including providing her next challenge.

“We don’t have a strong philanthropic culture in Australia and I believe conspicuous philanthropy needs to become part of our way of thinking. Proud public giving makes it clear that philanthropy is just part of what you do, particularly when you’re financially successful. All of us, though, can do our bit to reduce gender disparity when we invest our charity dollar. We can strengthen the community by strengthening its core – women and girls.”


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  • Georgia Stryker

    Georgia Stryker 9 years ago

    Some really important points for us all to think about!