‘When Women Lead: Insights from Women in Power’

A report written by AIS’ intern Sarah Dandurand –

On Thursday, October 10th 2019 the Australian Intercultural Society held a “When Women Lead: Insights from Women in Power” Panel to discuss the challenges women face when trying to be impactful leaders in a traditionally male dominated political structure. The panel consisted of the Hon Gabrielle Williams MP (Minister for Prevention of Family Violence and Minister for Women and Minister for Youth in the Victorian Government), Ms. Cindy McLeish MP (Deputy Leader of the Victorian Liberal Party), and Dr. Samantha Ratnam MLC (Leader of the Victorian Greens). The panel was moderated by Wendy Tuohy, a columnist for The Age newspaper. 

When I watched this panel back and listened to Dr. Samantha Ratnam explain how important it is to have a woman mentor since, in her words, “you can’t be what you can’t see”, I thought of my mother. My mother is my cornerstone and my number one cheerleader. She was always there to help out at school events when parent volunteers were needed all while working a full time job as a top banker Wells Fargo, one of the biggest banks in the world. Living in a world where “women are 42% of all employees, but only make up a quarter of executives and only 10% of CEO for profit making organization, leading to a 59% drop off between employment and getting to CEO, and that they hold these senior roles in health services and education as expected; but not in mining and engineering” can alter a person’s perspective to believe that this is a normal thing and it should be expected for women to eventually give up their career for family. Women should not have to live in fear of not doing what is expected of them. 

Another thing said at the panel was that “women do 67% of the home duties making it difficult for women to do housework and carve a career path”. This made it clear that these panellists are not trying to point the finger at women and say that they are the problem by not trying hard enough, but that men need to take some responsibility for benefiting from living in the patriarchy and not doing anything to fix it. Not every woman can be as brilliant as these panellists and my mom, but men and women need to help fix society so that everyone, no matter their gender, will be treated equally.

The discussion continued with Wendy asking “How can women react to men getting paid more and getting more senior positions especially in women dominated fields?”. The response was “Well women who are in leadership positions are not getting paid as much as men in similar roles. Work environments are not accommodating to mothers. Firms are paying part time for full time mothers when they return from maternity leave, burns out mothers and they eventually leave work to be mothers.” If a girl wants to have a career they should not have to think they will eventually have to give it up in order to have a family as well.

Most of the discussion from the panel was about how difficult it was for women to get into leadership positions and how once you are in these leadership positions, women are expected to be perfect all the time and never mess up even once. Gabrielle stated that because of “fear… women are scared to put their hands up because they are expected to be perfect all the time… It’s hard to model the moulds that have been presented to women because most of the time, especially in leadership positions, it’s been men”. Women should be taught the same as men, that they can do anything they put their minds to. They should not feel pressured to fit the perfect mould of society at an early age, these panellists began this discussion so that women should not have to live in fear of men and I hope that that comes true. 

For more information on the panel, see the video and photos below.