SUBJECTS: Women in Leadership; Quotas for women’s representation.

SYLVIA JEFFREYS, PRESENTER: Welcome back. Well there is a lack of female leaders in this country and it needs to change. Only 11 of Australia's top 200 companies have female CEOs. In politics we are ranked 49th in the world when it comes to the representation of women in Parliament. 49th. Women only make up 32 per cent of Australia's Federal politicians, so how do we make Australia a better place for women to thrive? On Today's Agenda, I’m joined by Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek and founder and CEO of Business Chicks, Emma Isaacs. Good morning to you both.
EMMA ISAACS: Good morning.
JEFFREYS: Shocking figures really in 2018 and I don't know about you but it feels to me like every time we go one step forward we go two steps back in this country. Tanya, why do you think progress is so slow on this front in Australia?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think the important thing to acknowledge is that there has been progress. When my friend Jeanette McHugh was elected to the Parliament in 1983 she went into the old Parliament House in Canberra, she was the first woman from New South Wales elected to the Federal Parliament, there weren't even women's toilets in MP’s part of the old Parliament House because they never expected women to be in the Parliament. So first of all, tick, let's celebrate that we have taken steps forward, and secondly, let's not be content with what we've achieved. I mean, we make better decisions as a Parliament when our Parliament represents the community, that means we should be aiming for half women.
JEFFREYS: I think the actions of David Leyonhjelm last week opened our eyes to the ongoing sexist culture that clearly still exists in Parliament. I think we all hoped and believed that we had come a long way but to hear him speak about Sarah Hanson Young the way he did was eye-opening and I think personally quite upsetting. Is it a toxic culture in Parliament? Is Parliament a toxic place for women?
PLIBERSEK: I think it's a tough place for women but it's become better over the years because we are getting closer to a critical mass of women. And you were pointing out the figures before. We're still not doing well overall but in the Labor Party we're at almost 50 percent - we're at about 48 percent women - and so even in the time I've been there, in the twenty years I've been there that culture has changed because when half of the people that you're interacting with are women that sort of behaviour is much less tolerated. I really don't think our blokes would dare say something like that and if they did they'd be very quickly pulled into line by the women in the organisation and the other men who have also seen that our culture needs to change.
JEFFREYS: In the world of business, Emma, you're at the very top of your field but I imagine you would have faced many barriers on your way up. Were there some gender based barriers that you faced on your way up the ladder?
ISAACS: Yes, certainly Sylvia. I have had an unusual career in that I've only worked for myself. I started my first company at the age of 18 and have worked as an entrepreneur throughout my entire career so that's a little bit of, you know I've been perhaps a little bit closed from some of the systemic discrimination that exists both in politics and the corporate work force. But we conducted a huge women in leadership survey in April of this year and we had 2,700 respondents in 48 hours, so there's a huge amount of passion and interest in this topic and the challenges are still very similar that women are facing. Things like how to deal with multiple role conflict if you're juggling a family and a business or working in your career. Women are still bearing the mental load for those, do the kids have the right nutrition in their lunch boxes, have the invitations gone out for the children's birthday party, so despite our progress we are still having to deal with the lion’s share of work that comes with raising a family as well.
JEFFREYS: To what extent is it a lack of opportunity or a lack of confidence that is holding women back?
ISAACS: That's contentious, that's really contentious. There's definitely a confidence gap when it comes to women and a lot of our work at Business Chicks is all about trying to equip women with the tools to progress and to stand their own in both the workforce and with their rights at home as well. But really, there's a lot of work that is to be done within our workplaces and so it's not just a female problem. It's going to take both genders to come to the party and really change the landscape for sure.
JEFFREYS: I'd love to chat about the #metoo movement, because that is changing the landscape, there's no doubt about that. But I wonder if you have any concerns about potentially impeding gender balance and our work towards gender balance?
PLIBERSEK: I think the #metoo movement's been terrific because it is really shining a light on the sort-of assumptions men have made in the past about what they can get away with at work. I think sending a very strong message that workplaces have to be professional. They're not a dating agency, it's a workplace. I think having that message sent very strongly, I think that's healthy.
ISAACS: Absolutely. It can only do good to bring this issue into the spotlight, into the media, is a really positive thing. It's not going to impede anything. It's just...and to see the women who are quite powerful in their fields coming out and saying I've experienced this as well. That can only work in all of our favours.
JEFFREYS: What about quotas? I know the Labor Party has set targets for many years now, they've obviously been very successful in reaching those targets, but what about the results of that diversity within the Labor Party, for example. What has that shown you?
PLIBERSEK: I think targets are really important because they really focus the minds of people within the organisation on how they are going to achieve the goal. We first set a target in 1994 and we were at about equal with the Liberal Party in terms of women's representation then. We had a 35 percent target, we met that and beat it, we raised the target, we raised it again to 50 percent, and I think we'll get there at the next election, which will be six years ahead of schedule. And it has really, it's not that, I mean what it does is make the organisation look for women to bring forward to promote. Those women are there. Those talented women are there but they are too often overlooked. What targets do is make you look wider, cast the net wider. I think it's a good thing.
JEFFREYS: The common complaint about quotas and the reason why so many businesses for example are so reluctant to put them in place is that people will be selected on their gender rather than merit-
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, you know what? If there weren't so many incompetent men in business and politics that would be a stronger argument.
ISAACS: I agree, I agree. I'm all for quotas. I think if we mandate for quotas on boards it can only, it's a creativity thing. The talent is there, it's just a matter of finding it and working as a whole toward those quotas.
JEFFREYS: So why should men care about gender diversity in the boardroom, in the office, in Parliament?
PLIBERSEK: Parliament makes better decisions when it's more representative of our general community. You have to have gender diversity, age, background - all of that. The wider the life experience that's represented, the better the decisions, and I think that's true for business as well. There's a lot of statistics that show that businesses that have more women on their boards actually perform better.
ISAACS: Perform better. They do. And women bring a different style of leadership to the table as well and they make decisions in different ways. And it's exactly true what Tanya said - you have to mirror the communities in which you serve and that goes with politics and with business.
JEFFREYS: You've got a new book coming out called 'Winging It'.
ISAACS: Yes, thank you.
JEFFREYS: What is the most important advice that you can give to a woman who's perhaps on her way up the ladder?
ISAACS: I think it's important to back yourself in your career and to seek mentors and to network really, really well. I think it's important people put themselves forward for the high profile activities, not just volunteering for the Christmas party or the social activities. It's all about how do they get associated with and hang out with the more powerful people in the workplace to get ahead.
JEFFREYS: It's number three, don't bake or pick up the water jug.
ISAACS: Yeah right. It's a funny one but when you are trying to work your way up the corporate ladder, looking like you're a nurturer in your organisation is not the way to appear more powerful, so very much, like I said, volunteering for the roles that put you next to the most powerful people in the workplace and putting your hand up for opportunities that aren't the social ones.
JEFFREYS: And Tanya what about women who might be considering a career in politics?
PLIBERSEK: Go for it. I think Emma's great advice in the book is just bite off as much you can handle and dive right in and just do it.
JEFFREYS: Well we really appreciate you both coming in this morning and sharing your insights and your own experiences and advice as well, because I know, I think a lot of us were feeling a little bit flat after the events of last week, about the direction perhaps that we're heading in as a country, so we do appreciate you coming in and sharing that with us this morning. Thanks so much.
PLIBERSEK: Thanks Sylvia.
ISAACS: Thank you Sylvia.