UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship Breakfast

By Lisa Tarry, Careers & Corporate Relations Manager MBA Programs, Management Education, at the University of Sydney Business School

Lisa TarryRecently I took an unexpected journey into my childhood, thanks to Julie McKay, Executive Director of the Australian National Committee for UN Women.

If you can imagine for a moment, a room full of over thirty women who have been brought together as part of the UN Women National Committee Australia MBA Scholarship selection process for a common goal; to discuss raising public awareness of gender and development issues. In fact, the room was so charged with positive energy, it served as a catalyst inspiring a meet up to consider why “a lack of female pipeline for leadership” is still used as an excuse today!

Julie did a stellar job of facilitating the session and began by asking each person to share what their hopes, ambitions and dreams were at year 6.

There were so many interesting stories, with marine biology featuring as a hot favourite, and I found myself reflecting on my desire to be a writer at that age.

The encouragement one teacher had given to my creative writing skills had helped me to see the work through the eyes of another.  I was too young to register how profound that was, but it’s stayed with me to this day and I can now see how important that moment was.

I went on to muse about the fact I had not actually become a writer (as were others in the room about their respective dreams) and I wondered if money were no object, would things have been different?

I was brought back to the present, as Julie noted the emergence of the importance of role models and how so many of us had been positively influenced by different people through the experiences we were sharing. We went on to consider how to foster inclusive leadership and what the differences between inclusive and ordinary leadership looked like.

The strong message that shone through was the need to re-think merit and how our perceptions of meritocracy are failing Australian businesses, in that there are simply not more women in CEO roles.

We looked at the ‘blind audition’ that certainly puts discrimination on centre stage. Before blind auditions became common in the 1970s, women accounted for only about 10 per cent of new hires at major U.S. orchestras. Since the early 1980s, about half of new hires at the New York Philharmonic, 40 percent in San Francisco and more than a third in Boston and Chicago have been women.

Whilst the usefulness of having targets and quotas have been questioned, what they have achieved is to force companies to review their process for choosing board members, and consider a wider pool than those they had originally canvassed. It can be argued it is the only thing that has seen transformational change.

Considering that our current environment in Australia does not support quotas, we finished by looking at what we could do in our personal and work life that could progress gender and development issues.

A few gems resonated with me, but in particular, one woman said she would continue to re-write storylines for her daughter where possible.  She gave us an example.  One day she took her daughter to see the Nutcracker, a two act Russian ballet by Tchaikovsky featuring Dr. Stahlbaum and ‘his wife’.

She cleverly realised how this could shape her young daughter’s view of women, and quickly re-told the story; Dr. Stahlbuam and his wife who has a PhD in Dam Construction!

“Why Dam Construction?!” we all cried, and the simple answer was that her daughter has never forgotten it and it’s true, neither will we!

The truth in this story could not be more evidenced if we look only recently to the work of Rare Birds. A woman travelled around to schools in Australia in 2013.  She asked young girls what they thought an entrepreneur was, the majority of them had no idea. The very few that did answered, “a man”.  She went on to create a book of Australia’s 50 Influential Women Entrepreneurs.

On my way home that evening, inspired by the session, I decided to open up iTunes University and listen to my Creative Writing Masterclass. I chose to listen to Arthur Golden, the author of the bestselling novel, “Memoirs of a Geisha” (1997).  It was engaging and insightful, but at the end during the Q&A, the question I’d been pondering all day was serendipitously addressed:

Question: “Mark Twain said writing is the application of your backside to a chair and I’m wondering whether you did other things as a writer or whether it’s something that is all consuming?”

Arthur Golden: “I’ll be perfectly honest, I come from one of those families where I knew I was not going to starve, and I wasn’t going to have to earn money. It’s made the job of becoming a writer vastly easier because I didn’t have the distraction of having to go to the office every day, or having to worry about the pay check. I’m in awe of people who do both things at the same time, because for me, writing a novel was a complete immersion.

I had a family, a wife and children, and at the time they were little kids and that takes a lot of energy. That already seemed like a very full life to me. All that and a job seems very hard to me, but people do it, and it requires that much more diligence I think”.

Yes indeed, women do it, women do it every day, and women deserve the support to reach their full potential and give back to the world in a way that only women can.

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