Early bird tickets ends in
  • Days
  • Hours
  • Minnutes
  • Seconds
Opinion November 11, 2019

The essence of feminine leadership

At the third annual Women in Finance Awards, Australia’s former and longest-serving sex discrimination commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick AO, delivered a rousing keynote speech that had the room on its feet. This is what she had to say

In her speech, Ms Broderick issued a call to action to those wielding power in business: call out sexism and disrespect; enable men to access flexible work as a fundamental, not a favour; never allow a woman’s pregnancy to jeopardise her place at work; and build a culture where “dignity and respect lie at the core”.

Liz Broderick AO speech - The essence of feminine leadership

It’s an absolute pleasure to be invited to speak tonight at this, the third annual Women in Finance Awards and to celebrate Australia’s remarkable women in financial services.

Can I too acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and pay my respects to Elders, past, present and emerging, and any ATSI people in the audience this evening. Thank you for your custodianship and nurturing of this land for thousands of years.

I remember the last time I presented here in Pyrmont. It was late 2017 at the newly opened International Convention Centre.

Imagine this: I’m rushing to meet my twin sister Jane – I’ve asked her to be my plus one at a black-tie event where I’m delivering the Australian Oration for 2017. It’s a keynote of some importance delivered the year before by David Gonski, and before that by the then prime minister, so I’m feeling a tad nervous.

My sister Jane is sitting on Table 60, on the outskirts, a place where a pair of binoculars is required to see the event. The plan is that she will meet me before the dinner in the vast, marble lobby for a quick chat before we each move to our respective tables.

But suddenly the plan starts to fall apart. As I try to find Jane, pushing through the masses of taffeta and bow ties, everyone quaffing champagne, I start to feel quite unwell. Jane rushes over full of concern, and it soon becomes clear that the keynote speaker won’t be keynoting anytime soon.

I’m suffering a severe bout of vertigo and unable to stand. In fact, I think I’m going to throw up all over the taffeta and bow ties – it is clear another plan is needed.

I thrust the speech into Jane’s hand. “Janie, here’s the speech. You’ve got to deliver my Australian Oration. Perhaps they won’t even guess that it’s not me!” And in a few seconds, Jane had gone from a plus one to the main act – from the outside table to Table Number 1.

Suddenly she’s sitting with Gladys Berejiklian and Australia’s corporate leaders, sweating nervously, hoping no one will discover our deception. As she later shared with me, in a shameless act of self-promotion, I might say, her delivery of my Oration actually received a standing ovation – it didn’t seem to matter at all that I wasn’t even there!

But I can assure you tonight that you have the real Liz Broderick, not her identical twin!

These awards are a wonderful example of the financial services industry coming together to celebrate outstanding women who are shaping and influencing the industry – the thought leaders of today and tomorrow. I also want to acknowledge the male leaders in the room tonight. Your support is so critically important.

Looking through the 25 categories of awards for 2019, I felt so inspired. Many categories resonated with me – the Employer of the Year award, recognising companies for demonstrating their commitment to gender equality and women’s progress; I also love that you have an award for the best Wellness Program of the Year for actively advocating for women’s wellbeing. I am a big believer in self-care, something I will touch on a littler later.

My journey

My life’s work has been about equality, about empowerment, particularly the empowerment of women.

I have been fortunate to see enormous progress, the myriad of opportunities that exist for women today. Over the past few years, we have seen many firsts in Australia – our first female PM, first female Governor General, first female infantry commander, first female head of a major bank, first female fast jet pilot, first female AFL and NRL match officials, first female ambassador to the Holy See and many, many more. I would imagine also many other firsts in this room tonight. These achievements recognise incredible tenacity and skill. But they are also cause for reflection: every first means that in 2019, 100 per cent of the previous leaders in those fields were men.

But I have also seen what the absence of gender equality looks like, not only in Australia but around the world. I know the difference it makes when men and women are truly equal, when a girl’s value is not diminished because of our inability to see her worth.

In November 2017, I was appointed by the UN as a special rapporteur and independent expert on discrimination against women across the world. I am now charged with responsibility for promoting gender equality globally. One of my roles is to undertake country visits on behalf of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, to assess the status of women and girls in different nations, and to make recommendations.

At a time when you might imagine a global mandate on women’s rights is necessary and non-controversial, in 2019 my mandate is one of the most contentious in the global human rights system.

You see, today the world stands at a crossroads, with the very concept of gender equality and women’s rights, including their economic rights, being increasingly contested in some quarters.

The global movement towards gender equality is profoundly uneven – a fragmented picture of acceleration in some contexts such as the #MeToo campaign, and stagnation in others. But the backlash for those who promote gender equality and women’s rights has become more and more pronounced in recent years. My meetings with human rights defenders across the world tell me that it is so.

In today’s world, there are loud voices working against gender equality. Working to silence our voices. Every one of us, men and women and particularly those in power, we have a responsibility to speak, to use our power and influence to drive change, to celebrate women’s achievements equally with men, to demand women’s equal place in industries and nations.

And it is with this context in mind that in September 2019, for the first time, I have invited the four UN special rapporteurs for women and girls representing Latin America, Africa, the MENA region and Eastern Europe to join with me and experts from across the Pacific and Asia, right here in Sydney to discuss women’s rights in the changing world of work.

As you know better than most, coming from the finance industry, the world of work is shifting dramatically – especially through technological change – but also through significant demographic change and continued globalization. The sheer scale and velocity of these changes is unprecedented. History indicates that no industrial or technological change has been gender-neutral, and that remains true for the fourth industrial revolution.

There are great opportunities for women in the work of the future, but also significant threats. Already today there is discussion about targeted ads where algorithms are perpetuating the gender pay gap by targeting listings for better-paid jobs towards men. If existing gender inequalities are not addressed and new threats not fully assessed, we risk not only continuing to replicate gender inequality but, worse still, potentially amplifying it.

Feminine leadership

Creating a world of work where women benefit and contribute on an equal basis to men will require more female leaders across all sectors, particularly in the STEM fields, including software, engineering, IT services, manufacturing and, of course, finance. This is one reason these awards are so timely and so important.

Each one of you here tonight is a leader. Others look up to you. They learn how to be from you. The essence of feminine leadership is shared vulnerability. It’s about connecting with others in a deeply human manner. That’s what will change organisations. That’s what will change our nation.

As a leader, instead of suppressing emotion, I have learnt to harness my emotions, to be vulnerable, to connect with my body wisdom. I use the emotion of the stories and events that I am witnessing, together with my problem-solving and strategic skills and my new found self-care strategies, to fuel a global systemic response.

So that when I step forward to influence others, to use my voice, it’s not just Liz Broderick prosecuting the case, it is Liz Broderick emboldened by the thousands of stories and individual instances of inequality, suffering and joy that she’s heard. That’s what makes me influential. That’s what makes me powerful.

But just as for you, it’s never smooth sailing. There will be times when you feel discouraged, feel like giving up. I have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. Instead I remind myself that being well both mentally and physically is the ultimate act of women’s empowerment, in many nations the ultimate act of political defiance. That self-care is never a selfish act. It is the stewardship of the gift I was put on the earth to offer others.

So, in this most recent phase of my life, as I pursue my global work speaking with leaders in many nations, I’m committed to moving from discussion to dialogue, committed to staying engaged whilst listening to diametrically opposed views, to staying connected whilst sitting with discomfort, to suspending judgement whilst feeling outraged, to voicing my own views in ways that invite inquiry and disagreement, to holding gently conflicting views whilst building bridges of understanding.

I try to be present in the moment. In meetings, for example, on occasion I step away from the content and notice how I’m feeling – irritated, tired, exhilarated – how others are feeling, and then choose to act from a place of understanding rather than being reactive. In moments of self-doubt – and there are many – I remind myself that who I am is enough. I don’t need anything else to create change. I have everything right here, right now.

Of course, that all sounds fine in theory, but I can assure you I’m still very much a work in progress! But I am enjoying every minute of my new life. I have never felt more alive, never more connected and powerful.

So, to every one of us who cares about driving positive change, what can we do?

Change does not come in one giant leap. Rather what is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts – adding, adding to, adding more, continuing.

We know that it does not take everyone on earth to bring prosperity, justice and peace, but only a small determined group who will not give up.

To mums and dads – all parents in the room: Respect and equality starts at home. You shape the expectations of your daughters, the attitudes of your sons. What you model, whether as a couple of opposite or same sex, or as a sole parent, your children will take into their adult lives.

To each of you leading in business: Those with power, call out sexism and disrespect; enable men to access flexible work as a fundamental, not a favour; never allow a woman’s pregnancy to jeopardise her place at work; build a culture where dignity and respect lie at the core.

To those men who love their partners, their daughters, their mothers and sisters: We are in this together. With men and women as equal partners in change, we will create the land of the genuine “fair go”.

And, finally, to those women who have led the way: Every one of you in the room tonight who has gone above and beyond, I stand in awe of what you have done and what you continue to do. From the core of my being, a big thank you.

This article originally featured on The Adviser