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Women in Leadership: Championing the Change

Ashleigh Went

A woman stands at the airport with a senior male public servant. As he leaves to retrieve something from his car, the woman goes to the airport café to purchase coffees.

Recognising her male colleague, a second woman approaches her. “It must be so exciting to be a personal assistant for someone so important!” she says.

“I’m sure it would be” says the woman, “but I’m actually his colleague.”

The woman buying coffee is none other than Senator Michaelia Cash, Minister for Women. The second woman? She’s a senior engineer at Canberra Airport – and is horrified to have made the same assumption that others make about her every day in the workplace.

Ms Cash told this story at the Institute of Public Administration ACT’s Women in Leadership: Championing the Change on Friday 3 March not from a place of outrage, but rather to illustrate that gender bias affects many of us. It is one of many barriers, Ms Cash says, that need to be addressed to achieve gender equality in the workplace.

Ms Cash was joined by Chief of Army Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, who as a Male Champion of Change spoke strongly of supporting women in the workplace – particularly the Defence Force.

“With women making up just over 50% of Australia’s population, I believe it to be a truth self evident that women represent at least 50% of our national talent and potential” said Lieutenant General Campbell. “This is a point not often made. The norm of talent maximisation should be organisations that reflect a roughly 50/50 gender mix. It’s just logical.”

Lieutenant General Campbell said women belonged in leadership positions across all fields – from politics, to academia to sports. And on women’s physical endurance, Lieutenant Campbell shared a personal insight from his own morning workouts.

“Perhaps the most telling observation, as I run around Lake Burley Griffin in the morning, often dodging waves of MAMILs (middle aged men in lycra) casually cycling around me, it’s Australia’s women I see out pushing themselves on a hard run, at times by a ration of 20 women to 1 man. I know this because I count them. So what’s not to like?”

Both Lieutenant General Campbell and Ms Cash listed flexibility in the workplace as one of the most effective means of removing barriers not only for women, but also for parents and carers.

“What we need to do,” said Ms Cash, “is conjure up that image of dad getting the kids up in the morning. Dad dropping the kids at school. Dad requiring the flexible working arrangements so we start to normalise flexibility in the workplace, and it doesn’t become about a particular gender. It becomes about the family unit, whatever that may be, and circumstances that will suit that particular family.”

Ms Cash also discussed female representation on Government boards, declaring a commitment from the Government to achieve greater gender balance. From July 1, data in relation to board appointments from both Government and external nominating bodies will be available to the public to achieve transparency.

The Hon John Lloyd PSM, Andrew Colvin APM OAM, Dr Heather Smith PSM, Lieutenant General Angus John Campbell DSC AM, Glenys Beauchamp PSM, Dr Gordon de Brouwer PSM, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, Rosemary Huxtable PSM, Chris Moraitis PSM, Renée Leon PSM, Kathryn Campbell CSC, Carmel McGregor PSM

The Hon John Lloyd PSM, Andrew Colvin APM OAM, Dr Heather Smith PSM, Lieutenant General Angus John Campbell DSC AM, Glenys Beauchamp PSM, Dr Gordon de Brouwer PSM, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, Rosemary Huxtable PSM, Chris Moraitis PSM, Renée Leon PSM, Kathryn Campbell CSC, Carmel McGregor PSM

While both Lieutenant General Campbell and Ms Cash conceded that there was a long way to go when it comes to removing barriers to gender balance in the workforce, the mood in a room full of female Secretaries, senior public servants and women accompanied by their children, was one of optimism.

Watch the full video here:

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Ashleigh Went

Ashleigh Went has a passion for all things health and wellness. She’s currently furthering her studies in nutrition, but also has a Bachelor of Communication and is a qualified fitness instructor with over five years experience working in a gym. Among other things, she’s a lover of great food, coffee and fashion. She can usually be found shopping for activewear, in the gym or updating her Instagram @wentworthavenue More about the Author

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