Address to the Financial Review and Westpac Women in Leadership Lunch, Sydney
FRI 15 JUNE 2012
Thank you very much for that kind introduction, and can I too start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and in a spirit of reconciliation paying my respects to elders past and present.
Can I say what a great delight it is being here for today’s lunch. I do get the opportunity to attend a number of women’s events, but not necessarily of this size and status, so it is a great honour to be here.
In fact we were reminiscing in the car on the way here about the last women’s event I attended. It was at my local football club in Melbourne, the Werribee Tigers. It was the women’s day at the Werribee Tigers, I was there at about 3 in the afternoon, the women had been drinking champagne since 11, and they were more interested in having photographs with my security team than talking to me.
So I am anticipating, hopefully, a slightly different reaction today, but if I see you all clearing out of the hall looking for my security team I’ll know I’m getting the same reaction.
I think we should, when we gather like this as women, of course with some of the men who are our friends, reflect on just how far we’ve come.
And we have been on a remarkable journey as a nation, and we should never forget the great achievements, the great strides forward that have been made for women in our nation.
From the first days when the first women spoke in the Australian Parliament, Edith Cowan, who said in that very first speech in a woman’s voice, “I know many people think that perhaps it was not the wisest thing to do to send a woman into Parliament.”
Now, after all these years of history we can say it was a wise thing to do, it was a wonderful thing to do, and it was that first step by that brave woman that has led to everything else including me being here today as the first female Prime Minister.
Sixty years ago we also saw another brave woman, Dame Enid Lyons, who was there in the sea of suits in the Menzies’ cabinet, the first woman to sit at that cabinet table.
Now I have the privilege of sitting at that cabinet table with incredible women, including Jenny Macklin, Penny Wong, Nicola Roxon and Tanya Plibersek.
And we get to go to Executive Council and be there with the first female Governor-General, and we know that there are three women on our High Court.
Change has happened.
Change has happened too from the days of the early suffragettes, and perhaps we should today be saying to ourselves thank heavens we’re not in the days that we had to go on hunger strike to make our point, now we can come out for lunch.
Change is good indeed.
What change means is that things that are unthinkable become thinkable, and ultimately the things that are thinkable become normal.
Indeed the history of great social movements is that things were unthinkable, then they slowly started to change and in retrospect everybody says the change was inevitable.
The women’s movement has been a bit like that.
We have made so many strides forward that now, with the remove of history, we see as inevitable. But they were only made because women of courage stepped up and got them done.
But here at today’s lunch we can’t just sit and raise a glass in celebration and say the journey is over, and that women have arrived because we now have the first female Prime Minister or the first female Governor-General, we still have work to do for women’s equality and women’s full empowerment in our society.
I think Hillary Clinton best caught this sense of progress but the need for more when she spoke after her defeat in the presidential primaries, and when she said, “although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it’s got about 18 million cracks in it, and the light is shining through like never before. Filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little bit easier the next time”.
Here in our nation our glass ceiling has cracks in it, but it hasn’t been shattered yet.
It is 28 years since the Sex Discrimination Act became law in this country. Or put another way, a baby girl born on that day would be a 28 year old woman now.
And whilst in her lifetime there has been change, 28 years later the gender pay gap in Australia is still at 17.4 per cent.
Only 3 per cent of the ASX 200 companies have female CEOs.
Women on boards are now at 14 per cent. Now admittedly that’s better than the 8 per cent two years ago, but it’s certainly not good enough.
So in this room, I want to say to corporate Australia represented here, we have to keep pushing for change.
We have to keep pushing to see more women take their rightful place on those boards of our major companies.
If you believe as I do, and it’s a fairly simple belief at base, that merit is equally distributed between the sexes, if you believe that and then you look and see a result like boards only having 14 per cent of women, then it means that women of merit that should be there aren’t there, and in the interests of justice but also in the interests of the highest possible quality for those boards, we should fix that.
There may be some men in the room who now remark, “That would tend to imply there are some men there who shouldn’t be there.”
Maybe that might be true as well.
We want to play a role helping this change, which I know corporate Australia is now very passionate about.
We want to make sure that there are women available to take those positions on those boards.
We’ve already made a start and a partnership with the Australian Institute of Company Directors to provide board diversity scholarships to help provide a pipeline of qualified women.
Now how many women are interested?
A story is told by the first round of these scholarships. They began in 2011, and we had 70 scholarships to award with nearly 2000 woman applying.
So I think that’s telling you that there is interest out there.
So I’m very proud to be bale to announce today that the Government will fund a further round of these scholarships, because we want more women to get that qualification and we want to play our part as a Government seeing more women come through to the boardrooms of our nation.
But as we think about that glass ceiling, we should never lose sight too of the lino on the floor.
We’ve got to make sure that whilst, as women, we are thinking about the next stage for women’s equality, those things still to be achieved which haven’t been achieved in equal numbers, we must still, too, have our eyes on equity.
I know from my family, from my own life, from my mother, that Ten Pound Pom who has been spoken of, are that there are so many things as a society we need to do to help women, the vast mass of women, women in their day-to-day lives, in their ordinary lives, in the struggles in suburbia and our regional towns in raising the family and combining work, there are so many things that we need to do to support women on that journey.
When my mother was raising my sister and I, raising her family, there wasn’t paid parental leave, there wasn’t subsidies for childcare.
Indeed my mother used to mind other people’s children for money; something in modern parlance we talk about a family day care, but that was the way that she was able, when we first arrived in this country, to earn a bit of money while she cared for her children.
And she moved from that stage of caring for us, as my father worked unbelievably hard in a series of occupations and ultimately as a psychiatric nurse, she moved from minding other people’s children to working in the kitchen cooking in an aged care institution.
And there wasn’t after school hours care then, so she used to run across the road to infants’ school, where I was, and I would sit in the kitchen with her until she finished work at 6:30 at night.
Not something we have happen these days, a small child in a kitchen cooking for 80 people – what could possibly go wrong?
The Occupational Health and Safety Standards aren’t going to quite let us do that.
But for me, what might sound in some ways a bit Dickens-like, it wasn’t at all. It was a wonderful experience of being in an aged care home, home to older women.
A young girl who didn’t have a grandmother in this country, who didn’t have any aunts or uncles in this country, got the opportunity of having 70-80 grandmothers to learn to knit and play cat’s cradle and do your ABCs, so it was a wonderful experience.
But as a society we’ve learned that we can do better than that and we should do better than that to have the policies that give women raising their families options and choices.
And I’ve always felt it keenly as a responsibility as the first woman to hold this position that we need to be delivering, as a government and as a nation, the policies that will give women those options and choices.
So I’m very proud that we’ve delivered after so many years of debate Paid Parental Leave.
And I’m very proud too that we’re putting more money into subsidising childcare than ever before.
Though we’ve still got a conversation to have about how our subsidy system can best meet the needs of working women today.
I’m proud that we’ve taken a big step forward in equal pay.
Those women who work in our social and community service areas, who do some of the most stressing work in our society, who for too long have been dismissed as the sort of people who do caring work, women’s work, work that doesn’t have to be well-rewarded. That we have achieved for them equal pay.
I’m proud we’re on a journey now to look at other areas where women work. Area like aged care – truly value their skills.
And we have been recognising the real skills of the workers in childcare, not assuming that somehow it is inherent in women to care for children, but recognising that caring for children is a real skill and it deserves to be recognised for the skill that it is.
So we have made some big strides forward, but there are still things we need to do as a nation, and which we will only be able to do together in order to change women’s experiences of their lives.
For too many women, it’s still a struggle and a juggle.
For too many women there are so many thinking moments about the choices that they have made.
For too many women there are workplaces that aren’t free from harassment.
For too many women there is the denial of their career aspirations and choice.
The mum track, the softer option that is laid out for them whether or not they want to embrace it, they’re told that’s their pathway at work.
And so we still have things to change, and we’ve got to change them together.
But when I come to events like this I am very confident that as a nation we will make those strides forward for further change.
But I’d have to say this – I don’t think it’s going to be easy.
Change is never easy, it always requires people to step up and say that they recognise the need for change and they’re going to make it happen.
The change that we live today, the changes that have made our lives possible, brought to us by earlier generations, were not easy to achieve.
And so for us to achieve the things that we want to see for our daughters and our granddaughters won’t be easy either.
They will take determination, but I know the women in this room are a very determined lot and we will get it done.
Recently, I got the best compliment of my lifetime from an unexpected quarter when it was said about me that ‘Gillard will not lay down and die.’
To which I thought, damn right.
And I think that spirit of determination is what binds us together indeed when we look back in history we see so many fine and so many strong figures who have brought us to where we are today.
We know that we can learn from them about taking our journey forward.
I want to point you to one wonderful quote from a female lawyer in Melbourne.
I know what it’s like to be a female lawyer in Melbourne and the stories of this woman a female lawyer in the 1950s to the 1960s can still be told.
Her name was Joan Rosanove and she was working as a successful female lawyer well before that was the norm.
She uttered these immortal words, ‘You must have the stamina of an ox and the hide like a rhinoceros and when they have kicked you in the teeth you must look as if you hadn’t noticed’.
Well in 19 years the job description for high achieving women probably hasn’t changed.
But I’d be here today saying to you don’t recount space in your head to the naysayers, to the people who say further change isn’t possible and that we can’t get more done.
I absolutely believe we can. I know that we will do that together.
We will reach days in this country when it is so norm for the Prime Minister to be a woman that no one even talks about her hair anymore.