National Press Club of Australia – Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Chief Executive Women President Sam Mostyn AO addressed the National Press Club of Australia outlining a vision for Australia’s future which uses all of Australia’s resources and talent, especially women, to create a vibrant and inclusive post-pandemic economy and society.
Sam Mostyn AO
Chief Executive Women, President
Read: Media Release
Full Speech (Not as delivered) below:
Thank you, Misha for your generous introduction.
I acknowledge that we are gathered here on the lands of the Ngunnawal – the traditional custodians of Canberra, the ACT and surrounding areas. I pay my respect to elders past and present. It is always good to be on Ngunnawal country. I was born here, educated here and my parents and sisters continue to call Canberra home.
I had hoped that my father Bill could be here today. I know how much my sense of engagement in community has come from observing his life-long commitment and dedication to our country and community, both in his long Australian Army career and then in disability services here in the ACT, not to mention his unfailing devotion to seeing his four daughters advance and prosper. My mother is very unwell in hospital and she is without doubt the embodiment of the role so many women play as the unpaid backbone of home and family. My love and thoughts are with them as they watch from the hospital today.
I would like to acknowledge the Members of Parliament here today. It is also very heartening to see so many familiar faces here in the room. Thank you all, particularly those who have travelled to Canberra for this event – it really is wonderful to see so many CEW members, colleagues and friends in person after such a long time.
Misha, thank you to you and Laura, Maurice and the National Press Club – for providing me with this opportunity to speak today, principally in my capacity as President of Chief Executive Women, but also through the many other roles that I, like all members of CEW, play in Australian society. These roles give us, collectively, multiple points of insight into the lives of everyone living in Australia.
More recently, this has also given us the unique privilege of observing up close the experiences of many, particularly women, trying to deal with the relentless upheaval caused to our world and this country by COVID.
Today I want to extrapolate from these insights the reality of what our country is experiencing right now, and what it could – and should – look like as we emerge from one of the most disruptive and challenging periods in our history.
At the outset, when I talk about women, we know the world is not binary and I am including women and people with diverse genders, anyone who identifies as a woman or identifies as non-binary.
First, though, a little bit about Chief Executive Women, as I suspect you may be surprised by who we are today.
We were founded in 1985 and our purpose and vision was – and remains – to progress women’s leadership and remove the significant barriers to women’s progress in the Australian economy. Women leaders enabling women leaders.
This could never have happened without the tenacity and far-sightedness of the founders and elders of CEW, all remarkable women. I have spoken with some of them as I prepared these words, in particular Barbara Cail AO, who I know is watching the broadcast from her home in Sydney; two of our founding members are with us today – Anne Gorman and The Hon. Bronwyn Bishop AC.
Wendy McCarthy AO, I am delighted to say, is here with us today. She was CEW’s 4th president. Annabelle Bennett AC was our seventh president … our 007. I am its 18th, with Sue Morphet, my predecessor, also here today, and it is wonderful to see you here.
Sadly, one of our founders, the beloved Carla Zampatti AC who arrived here from Italy in 1950 at the age of 8, died in April this year and we are all the poorer for it. She was – as her family said beautifully at the time of her passing – “a champion of Australian women and a multicultural success story.” Her daughter, Allegra Spender told me last week that standing up for women was Carla’s enduring passion, but that she knew there was still so much more to be done. ‘She would cross any street, do whatever she could to support women,” Allegra said.
I know how much our founders are proud of the work CEW has done, growing our membership from 16 pioneers in 1985 to more than 825 members today. We are women leaders across the Australian community who, in economic terms, oversee more than 1.3 million employees with $749 billion in revenue, a combined market capitalisation of more than $1 trillion and a contribution in excess of $249 billion to Australia’s GDP. We are a highly diverse group, but we are united as one by the need for change and what change could look like for Australia.
Our membership includes the Governors of four states, Chancellors and Vice-chancellors of our Universities and the nation’s Chief Scientist. They’re also Commissioners, senior bureaucrats and some of the top health experts who led Australia through the pandemic, as well as CEOs, CFO’s, COO’s and chief legal officers at Australian corporates and multinational conglomerates. CEW Members are leaders in fields from sports to cultural institutions, the Defence Force and the police, and the public service. Members are Chairs and board directors, philanthropists and leading academics from all over the country.
CEW members also represent a range of civil society organisations, women leading peak bodies representing migrants and refugees, to First Nations women leading major institutions to women leading organisations that help our most vulnerable Australians during the toughest of times.
At CEW we are not defined by our personal politics, economic status or cultural backgrounds. We are women holding senior or influential leadership positions across our communities and we come together on issues that matter to us all.
We sit at decision making tables around the country, leading the businesses, institutions and services that will enable Australia’s economic recovery; and we have, therefore, a unique view on what’s most important to Australian women working on the frontline in their respective organisations.
It was important to see many of our ASX200 CEO members profiled in The Weekend Australian – reflecting on their learnings as leaders throughout COVID. I think every one of them highlighted the issues I will be speaking about today and exemplify the impact women leaders are having across our country.
Being a woman leader is quite different from being a male one. Of course, there a far fewer of us – and our paths tend to be different. As women, we encounter obstacles and challenges that are often invisible to men. Although we work in the same landscape as men, our experiences in those landscapes are not the same. That is the case for women everywhere – in politics, in business, in sport, in the arts, in journalism, in academia, in the trades, in public service. And the truth is, we don’t seek to be the same as men. We just want the same opportunities and outcomes across our lives.
That’s business as usual for Chief Executive Women, although the last two years have been anything but business as usual. The pandemic has reached into every corner of our lives with a disruptive force and its women who’ve been more likely to lose paid work, especially those on casual contracts. Women who’ve been more likely to shoulder more unpaid work at home doing the essential care of family. Women who’ve been disproportionately on the front lines, keeping us safe and making us well. The deep tissue damage to one of the most feminised professions of all – nursing – is only now becoming clear.
Just last week the Melbourne Age reported the mass exodus of experienced, critical care nurses from ICUs – up to 20,000 of them – because of the enormous emotional toll placed on them during the pandemic. They are amongst our most valuable, cherished care workers who were already feeling burnt out and undervalued before COVID struck.
When a significant proportion of the population is locked down at home, we know it’s predominantly women who are doing the remote home schooling, women who are shouldering the increased domestic work. And – as our own annual CEW Senior Executive Census shows – women who are putting their professional aspirations on hold in order to deal with the complex and additional demands on their time that this pandemic has delivered. And while we have been effusive in our thanks, that gratitude has not translated into the kinds of structural policy changes that alleviates the heavy burdens they continue to carry.
In Australia, we like to tell ourselves we are the lucky country – and certainly our political leaders use this framing often. And yet among our vast natural resources, possibly the most under-celebrated part of our luck has been the unpaid work of women. We are lucky to have benefited from that for so long. But we cannot rely on it forever.
Earlier this year, as we launched our Pre-Budget Submission, CEW came together in a unique and powerful alliance with the Business Council of Australia, the ACTU, Goodstart Early Learning and The Parenthood – as well as Wendy McCarthy AO – to formulate and articulate a plan for making Australia a nation where all women live and work freely and safely, and in a manner that benefits the entire nation. It’s great to see Michele O’Neill and Georgie Dent here today.
We have also worked with state governments to make the case for our clear policy reforms. We have been articulating these policies for years, so it has been heartening to see developments at the state level, particularly in my state of NSW where Treasurer Matt Kean’s recent economic statement explicitly placed women and women’s economic empowerment and progress at the centre of rebuilding the state.
So that is why today, the central theme of my remarks is that CEW believes that we need to put CARE at the centre of our economy.
We hear a lot about economic growth, economic resilience and strategic competitive interests; about “muscling up to threats” and “building back better.” But what we virtually never hear is how care and economic performance and success go hand in hand. They are inextricably linked as the foundations of our future prosperity.
We are already moving quickly into a Federal Election campaign in which visual cues of hard hats and construction sites are accepted as the most powerful way of representing the value of jobs and infrastructure.
But there is a huge disconnect in this visual and spoken language – and the policies and mindset that drive this language – with the lived experience of millions of Australians, both women and men, but particularly women. Perhaps that is why just this week the Daily Telegraph highlighted under the headline “women voters to play kingmakers” that undecided women voters are focusing on policies around reproductive health, childcare and aged care, and addressing domestic violence.
We all travel on roads, but what is the infrastructure that has kept us alive and together through this pandemic? It is the human and social infrastructure of the care economy, one that is powered by women who are often underpaid, if they’re paid at all. This care economy has accomplished extraordinary things, and we need to start valuing, maintaining and investing in it with the same energy and focus as we would any arterial road. Truly, these workforces are the arteries of our nation, our regions, our cities, our suburbs, our communities, our families. We just don’t give it the equivalent value we should – so is it any wonder that it is the professions of care that we have neglected when investing in workforce planning, and where it has taken Royal Commissions to bring to light the consequences of such neglect -experienced catastrophically in the lives of so many.
When I think about those essential arteries of care, I think of places like the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville, in Sydney’s Inner West. Every day there are volunteer women working to plug the gaps and feed the people who have fallen through the cracks of the employment and welfare system. They include women who’ve only just arrived in Australia from Kabul after fleeing the Taliban. Despite that personal trauma and upheaval, they are already putting their hands up to help others in their newly adopted homes.
And yet as my friend Rosanna Barbero, CEO of Addison Road, told me last week, “everytime we hear about migrant women, we hear about them either as case studies or as problems to be solved”, when, in fact, they enrich our economy and society, just as Carla Zampatti AC did.
We were lucky to have Carla and the millions of other migrants who came here with little, and gave us so much. Yet lazy tropes about immigration continue to wield disproportionate power in our democratic system. It’s another sign of the disconnect between political language and current policies on the one hand, and the lived and breathed experience of millions of Australians on the other.
We can see the disconnect everywhere – how inequalities have been growing at alarming rates; how a breakdown of trust in our most basic institutions is increasingly causing tears to the very fabric of our society. We hear about it in terms of the so-called Great Resignation, a phenomena, which The Guardian reports as being experienced globally largely by women, but we also feel it as the Great Exhaustion, the likes of which most of us have never seen in our lifetimes.
It is hard to imagine a more tumultuous period than the one from which we are now trying to emerge.
To say this has been both a difficult and galvanising time for women is, therefore, an understatement.
There were moments, of course, to celebrate early in 2021 – when all four Australian of the Year Awards were won by women for the first time: Grace Tame, Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, Isobel Marshall, Young and Rosemary Kariuki.
It was a moment of enormous pride and gratitude for me – and for women across the country – that, finally, Australian women were being recognised for their pivotal roles in the health, well-being and good fortune of this country. This Lucky Country.
I had the same feeling a year earlier sitting at the MCG amongst more than 86,000 excited fans, just before the country was plunged into COVID, for the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Final- the highest attended women’s sporting fixture ever in Australia and the second highest worldwide – a moment which seemed to encapsulate the exponential growth and potential of women’s equality in sport in this country.
And yet alongside these achievements and recognitions, we’ve continued to absorb the shocking realisation of how entrenched gender-based violence and harassment are in the homes and working lives of women.
We heard last week from CEW member and ANROWS CEO, Padma Raman, who is here today, some of the details of a preliminary report that paint a comprehensive picture of how COVID-19 and the extended lockdowns have affected service provisions for women and children experiencing domestic and family violence. And how domestic violence is a sure pathway to often desperate levels of financial stress among Australian women.
ANROWS has also shared disturbing insights from the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey which reveals that as many as 4 in 10 Australians mistrust women’s reports of sexual violence – despite the fact that false allegations of sexual assault are extremely rare.
We heard earth-shaking testament to this earlier in the year – here in Canberra – from Grace Tame when she delivered her acceptance speech as Australian of the Year. We saw it in the ‘Enough is Enough!’ Marches 4 Justice around the country when tens of thousands of women, and also men, protested the appalling levels of sexual harassment and assault in this so-called lucky country.
We heard Brittany Higgins tell those at the Canberra march that “We are here because it is unfathomable that we are still having to fight this same stale, tired fight.”
It’s thanks to these extraordinary, irrepressible two young women leaders, Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, that our awareness is heightened, and thanks to the courageous efforts of two other remarkable women – Saxon Mullins and Chanel Contos – who have altered the way we think about consent education and the laws governing consent. Overnight affirmative consent laws have been passed in New South Wales and I know many are celebrating today.
We have also heard the voices of Yasmin Poole, Noor Haydar, Dixie Link-Gordon and Antoinette Braybrook amongst many others.
All these young, educated, fiercely independent women living in a country where a shocking 45 per cent of the population of 18 to 29 year old’s report having been sexually harassed over the past five years – at a cost of some $3.8 billion a year to the national economy; although, of course, it’s not just sexual harassment we’re talking about. It’s discrimination, conscious or unconscious, barefaced or subtle, conducted in plain sight or undercover.
So, news overnight of both major political parties committing to new structures to ensure the implementation of the national action plan are to be welcomed. But in keeping with CEW’s advocacy, we would expect this to be true commitments with appropriate resources and funding, in collaboration with existing agencies.
In October, following a months-long investigation, Nabila Ahmed reported for Bloomberg Equality that political and economic life in Australia is dominated by an old boys’ network to an even greater degree than in culturally similar countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, and that this is costing us billions of dollars.
As Rae Cooper, professor of gender, work and employment at the University of Sydney Business School has told us, “many of the gendered inequalities that existed in the pre-COVID-19 world of work – like the overrepresentation of women in lower-paid, insecure jobs and the uneven distribution of unpaid domestic labour – have [only] been exacerbated by the global pandemic.”
We are now living with what Professor Elizabeth Hill, also from Sydney University, describes as a great “weariness and whiplash” for women right across this country. The weariness and emotional havoc of paid and unpaid work during lockdown. The whiplash of disproportionate jobs and hours lost during Covid where 55 per cent of the jobs lost during April 2020 were women’s, and this year, 60% of the job losses across Australia between June-September were jobs lost by women. As AIIW has reported today, young women were particularly hard hit, accounting for more than two-thirds of the jobs lost by young people. As they recommend, we will need investment in skills, training and career pathways for women. Add to this the more than 90,000 Australian parents who stayed out of the workforce last year because the cost of childcare was too high and the many more who didn’t work because there is a chronic shortage of high quality, mutually beneficial flexible working arrangements.
So, how is it that, as CEW revealed in our 2021 senior executive census, only one of the 23 new chief executive officers appointed to a major company during the 20/21 financial year was a woman? And how is it that, among the top 200 businesses, the number of woman CEOs fell from 14 in 2018 to 10 this year? And this despite what we know from research published last year by Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency – that when a company has a women CEO, it leads to a five per cent increase in the market value of Australian ASX-listed companies. Something I’ve seen firsthand as a director on company boards where women have been appointed to the CEO role.
But, it’s young women we should worry about most according to Dr Angela Jackson, lead economist at Equity Economics and Development Partners, told me a few days ago, “they’re meant to be the ones closing the gender gap, and yet they’ve now taken a gigantic hit at the very start of their careers. “Gender inequity should be seen for what it is,” she said – “a failure of our society and economy to properly harness all its talents and resources.”
“Over half of society’s output is produced in the household,” she added, and yet we treat it like a “black box” which somehow miraculously allocates resources efficiently without being distorted by government policy. We know this is not true because government policies – or absence of polices – distort every single day the decision making of households, keeping women in caring roles and males in income-earning roles.”
So when we continually hear the language of “building back better”, “bouncing back” and “muscling up”, we at CEW ask ourselves, what would it take to build a post-pandemic nation that flourishes on the world stage by using every ounce of its talent? What would our country look like if it finally moved on from all these worn-out notions of toughness and blokey mateship and, instead, began reimagining a society that truly celebrates care and invests in all its women; a country that ensures opportunities for women and men alike, and that treats women with the decency and respect that is our basic human right. Not just as a moral obligation – although that should be enough – but as a powerful driver of performance, innovation and effectiveness in every sector of society.
Right now, there are countless men doing important, intentional, purposeful work in this country to advance the cause of gender balance and to combat the crippling stereotypes that cause so much harm to women and men alike. I know this because I work with them around board tables, around executive tables, in business, in sport, in domestic violence prevention organisations and across our communities. At CEW we partner with companies and research partners where we see those men – men who are striving for different outcomes despite often oppressive peer pressure to conform to antiquated gender norms. I’m fortunate to be married to one of them. Simeon spent as much time taking leave as I did to raise our daughter – not an easy task for a barrister – and he continues to push for change at the bar as a safe and welcoming place for women to have great careers. But as they all know, much more needs to happen.
So I am here today, partly to try and give voice to what Professor Mary Beard explored in her book Women and Power – “the fact that women, even when they’re not silenced, still have to pay a very high price for being heard.” We see that in the vile takedowns of – and attacks on – women who do speak up, and we see it in the persistent absence of our voices in the national discourse, despite the prominence of many determined women in newsrooms around the country, and here in the national press gallery.
This year’s Women for Media 2021 report shows, for example, that men’s voices, quotes and opinions continue to dominate the space, and that of over 57,000 online articles published in May this year, less than a third of the quotes came from women. In relation to Covid, women provided only one quarter of the quotes, despite the many chief health officers and epidemiologists who are women.
As Chris Wallace pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald last week, this report illustrates starkly that “well into the 21st century men are still writing two of every three opinion pieces, two of every three political stories, and almost nine of every 10 sports stories.”
We need more women of all backgrounds and experiences shaping the narratives of this country. We need more diverse thinking informing leadership. We need more people who embody the lived experience of millions of Australians, because, to borrow a phrase from the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
In 1902 we were the first country in the world to grant women both the right to vote and the right to run for political office. Shockingly, Aboriginal women were excluded from this.
We were the leader on gender equality and, yet, this year Australia delivered one of its worst performances in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index, falling to 50th in the world, from 15th place in 2006. It was even worse in terms of economic participation and opportunity where in the past 15 years we fell from 12th to 70th place.
And this despite our being ranked NUMBER ONE in the world for women’s education. For every 100 women enrolled at university there are only 72 men, and yet women continue to earn less than men. Women radically outnumber men in the Australian Bachelors degree-qualified population. And yet, they continue to take on more unpaid domestic work than men, even more than before the pandemic. They often find entry to the lucrative jobs barred to them, they are overlooked for promotions more than men, work twice as hard as men to achieve positions of leadership, retire poorer than men, and all this while still experiencing belittlement, harassment, abuse and violence in the workplace and at home.
What a shocking waste of investment and talent. What a missed opportunity not to tap into our full potential by using every resource available to us. And what an abdication of common sense and sound judgement when leveraging women’s participation and leadership is so unambiguously good for both the economy and the wider community.
Just in terms of return on investment alone, Goldman Sachs has found that bridging the difference between male and female employment rates alone could provide an 8 per cent boost — $114 billion a year — to the Australian economy.
Earlier this year at a CEW event on equitable flexibility, Tim Reed, President of the Business Council of Australia, said: “We invest billions in education, so to not leverage [women’s participation and leadership] is an economic cost,” particularly now that we are unable to grow the population through immigration. “One of the largest productivity leakages in the Australian economy,” he said, “is the under-utilisation of educated women.”
So what we at CEW are saying is that this pandemic has left women more vulnerable in their employment, their financial security, their mental health and their safety than they already were. And what we are also saying is that in order to recover from the long-term impacts of COVID-19 we need significant and innovative investments in social infrastructure and in people – in CARE. This should be the immediate focus for all governments, business and civil society, just as border closures, a national vaccination program, and pumping billions into the economy through Jobkeeper and Jobsaver were the immediate responses to a once-in-a-century global health catastrophe.
That’s what COVID taught us. We can do big things fast if we choose to because making the right choices is what determines a nation’s destiny.
An incremental response from government and business is just not going to cut it. We need wholesale immediate change. We need accessible early childhood education and care, government leadership on paid parental leave and superannuation. We need secure, well-paid jobs and careers in the care industries. And we need respect at work for all. There is simply no excuse now not to engage head on with the adoption and acceptance of these fundamental commitments. This is what it means to link the foundational infrastructure of a care economy to our future success.
During this past year at CEW, we have also looked at the many other ways we need to face into the future.
Our curated CEW conversation series included sitting in a yarning circle with CEW Member Professor Megan Davis and Aunty Pat Anderson AO to discuss the role that women can play in advocating for a constitutionally enshrined Voice, just as women use their voices in 1967 to change the nation then.
We held virtual sessions on how to support rapid vaccination deployment, the crisis in Afghanistan and its devastating impact on women and girls, and, most recently, the role we want to play in climate change action.
We also invited journalist and author David Leser – who is here today – and Hunter Johnson, founder and CEO of the Man Cave, to lead us in a discussion about the urgent need for men and women to engage in new conversations; for men to learn how to properly listen to what women are saying, and to challenge the often suffocating models of masculinity they’ve inherited. But also how they could work more flexibly, because we know the more involvement a father has in his child’s early life, the deeper and more rewarding his relationship with his child will be.
In that conversation, we imagined an Australia that honours what I suspect hundreds of thousands of young men are wanting to see, alongside what women have been clamouring for for years – a way out of the oppressive norms that gendered expectations and structures have placed on all of us.
At CEW, we know from The ‘Equitable Flexibility: Reshaping our Workforce’ report released earlier this year – in partnership with global consultancy firm Bain & Company and ANZ – that 95 per cent of employees want flexibility and they want the companies they work for to do more to encourage flexible working arrangements. They told us resoundingly that they regarded this as the most effective way to overcome barriers to gender equality.
It was the pandemic that forced the hand of even the most sceptical employers – because they had to change fast, and change they did. It turned out that productivity wasn’t destroyed, and the sky didn’t fall in. What an opportunity, then, for us to now dispense forever with the tired assumptions and stigma that only women want to work flexibly, or that there’s something wrong with men who want to.
It is time we face one of the hardest truths – that there is no guarantee of a nation’s survivability, no assurance that ours – or any nation’s luck – will last.
We believe that Australia is now in danger of its luck running out.
This pandemic, following on from the 2019/20 bushfires, smashed our communities and deepened already existing inequality. It exposed the fragility of our economic assumptions and the flaws in our structures. It illuminated how fundamental social infrastructure is to a strong, well-functioning economy.
So now is the opportunity to build towards a vibrant, smart, sustainable and equitable economy and society. Now is the time for Australia to develop a comprehensive plan for growth which closes the widening social and economic gap between Australians along gender, class, racial, cultural, ableism, LGBTQIA and geographical lines. And for us to recognise that the compounding effect of excluding multiple diverse identities robs us all of our full potential as a nation.
We need to capitalise on important lessons from the COVID-19 crisis and put care at the centre of the economy AND WE NEED TO PUT WOMEN AT EVERY DECISION-MAKING TABLE.
We need – and should demand – a diverse cross-section of Australian women leaders taking their rightful seats at the top tables in order to help shape the decision-making policies and planning that govern all our lives.
In 2015 I think we saw what that can look like – when Australia played a significant role in the drafting of Sustainable Development Goals and committed our nation to important, accountable goals for a sustainable world. Under Julie Bishop’s leadership as Foreign Minister, we signed up to the 17 targets – two of which are gender equality, and action on climate change. Sadly, today we are now laggards on the world stage in relation to both.
As leaders in climate action often say, “the best time to have planted a tree was decades ago. The second-best time is now.” Similarly, the best time to have committed to gender equality was decades ago, but the second-best time is also right now.
In her acceptance speech here last year as senior Australian of the Year, Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann presented us with the pathway to a more CARING society, and what this might look and feel like.
She reminded us that her people, First Nations people, had lived in this country for tens of thousands of years and that it had been only 200 years since they’d begun interacting with white settler society.
She reminded us that her people had had to live and work – as best as possible – in two worlds, but that now was the time for us to come closer to understand her world and how her community lives. And to listen deeply.
Imagine if we would begin to listen deeply – and apply her advice seriously – to what our country, our land, our communities are thirsting for. Imagine if we could begin to conceive a way of emerging from the upheaval of the past two years with a new attention to the challenges we face at this extraordinary moment – and draw on and learn from the wisdom of First Nations people, and listen to and respect the voices of women.
World renowned economist Mariana Mazzucato has written extensively on the spectacular power of setting bold missions and reminds us that the moon landing mission was as much about stimulating innovation and discovery across the US economy. A mission on gender equality for our country could equally have untold benefits for us all right across our society, not just for women.
What would a country look like if it stepped up to this challenge? It would look like a truly Lucky Country. It would be a lucky country built on hard work, ambition and respect. It would be a country built on the idea that all ships get lifted on the same tide; that the triumphs and achievements of one half of the population cannot happen without the triumphs and achievements of the other half.
What would the markers for such a country be at this moment of cultural, social and economic reckoning? It would be a country where the next government, no matter which political stripe, had as many women in its cabinet as men, a cabinet that better reflected Australia. It would be a country where the question of early education and universal childcare was a given, and where paid parental leave and flexible working arrangements – for both women and men – was part of the pledge between government and its citizens, and where women were able to retire with some kind of economic security and dignity rather than being trapped in grinding poverty.
Why? Because this would reflect a country that celebrated the aspirations of all of us to perform our work, as well as look after those we love, in ways that don’t break us. It would be a country that cared for each other — for the elderly, for the young, for the vulnerable; that cared for this country, this land and its future.
What else? Well, it would be a country where we didn’t hear every 10 days that another woman or her children had been killed by her former or current partner. This has got to stop now, and to do this there needs to be a genuine, urgent and ambitious commitment to solving women’s safety issues right across Australian society.
It would be a country where organisations set and monitored gender diversity targets and took other concrete and proactive actions as part of a visible leadership commitment to gender equity; where a diversity of women took their rightful seats at the decision-making tables because, at the core of economic policy development, the impacts and benefits of women being at these tables was crystal clear.
It would be a country where men took parental leave in large numbers and where flexibility in working arrangements was not some kind of code for insecure work because it would be taken up by men and women alike, with no adverse impact on their careers. And a country where men actively sought to work in care, and women were well-represented in careers traditionally dominated by men.
It would be a country that had successfully transitioned to a low emissions future, embracing climate action and capitalising on all the new opportunities for wealth creation that the challenges of climate change present to us, and that millions of women are wanting to play their part in.
It would be a country that, in utilising the full strength of the voices and ambitions of First Nation women, alongside all women, had reckoned with our long history, and accepted the invitation in the Uluru Statement from the Heart and moved to Constitutional recognition of First Nations women’s voices – just as happened in 1967.
I am convinced that Australia could again be a country that is the envy of the world, one where I would be able to sit with my daughter and nieces and nephews, all currently in their early 20’s, and feel confident in being able to say to them, “Yes you all have an equal future.”
We cannot waste any more time.
We cannot waste anymore good ideas.
We need to seize this moment, because our luck is running out and luck is not a strategy. Luck, as they say, favours the brave and good luck, as the Roman philosopher Seneca said, is that place “where opportunity meets preparation.”
We now have the opportunity. This is the moment to prepare ourselves.
Sam Mostyn AO
Chief Executive Women, President