Our first female PM was gracious, dignified and personified leadership as she made her final speech last night. She rightly acknowledged the achievements of her Government and then expressed pride for making it easier for the next woman to step into the role.
But why did it have to be so difficult for her? Who would have thought it would be so extreme? Why did so many think it was OK or appropriate to be so publically disrespectful – of anyone, let alone the holder of this very senior office?
We witnessed numerous attempts to keep Julia Gillard in her place. She was objectified, sexualised, diminished and demeaned. She was criticised for how she looks, how she speaks, and who she spends time with. The anger and vitriol was unprecedented. I listened to men and women, likely to be worse off under a coalition government, lose reason and rationality because they wanted to get ‘rid of the bitch.’ It didn’t matter what her policies or achievements were, or how they’d benefit from them, it seems they just wanted to revert to the status quo.
There are obvious conclusions we must reach about Australia’s culture and ingrained sexism. However, the fact is that until we have gender balanced leadership teams across Australia, we should continue to expect criticism of the courageous few women who are there.
My research confirms that the more women there are at the top, the easier it is for other women to join them. Women are more likely to get the support and opportunities they miss out on from male dominated organisations. They are less subject to individual attack and criticism. Their differences and similarities are normalised, their flaws and mistakes no more visible than anyone else’s. They are part of a leadership cohort – all of whom have different approaches, ideas and frailties – which either work or don’t, but are scrutinised in a more balanced and considered way.
Last night I felt discouraged, ashamed and embarrassed by the behaviour directed at our former PM. Today I feel much more determined. It’s time to get even: 50/50 at all levels across all organisations, across Australia. And if not, we all need to ask, ‘why not’?