Women in leadership
24 June 10
It’s quite possible that you haven’t heard the momentous news: Julia Gillard is now prime minister of Australia. In case you missed it, she’s a woman — the first female Prime Minister for Australia. It’s a historical day.
The way that Australia’s leadership changes — outside of an election — is through party-room politics. The Labour party has the majority of elected government ministers, so they’re in power. And so the Labour leader is the Prime Minister. Today, our former PM Kevin Rudd lost an internal party-room vote of confidence in favour of Julia Gillard.)
Technically, Julia Gillard is not the Australian Head of State. That’s still the Queen of England. And the Queen’s chief representative in Australia is the Governor General (who, incidentally, is also a woman.)
So whichever way you want to look at it, Australia’s governing heads are all women.
When I announced the news of Gillard’s successful leadership ballot to David this morning, he couldn’t see that it was a big deal. But I could feel it.
To me, Gillard’s new appointment means that a milestone has been reached. It proves that, perhaps, we’ve all grown up a little bit more. Australia has matured past the immature generalisations that say women can’t be effective leaders.
For the sake of my four daughters, I hope it is so.
I hope gender won’t be an issue for them in whatever career they chose to pursue.
And with today’s news I’m also remembering this June 1994, when I was running for the top political position at boarding school). Over the past couple of years, I had held class government positions, establishing myself as a hard worker and proving my capability in liaising between faculty and students.
Our student government body was called the Student Senate, and so I placed myself forward in the running to be president during my Senior year. (I thought it would be the crowning achievement for my illustrious high-school career. Boy, I was wrong.)
Inadvertently, my candidature turned the political race into a gender race. I guess it should have been predictable. We were school-kids!
Throughout the campaign, I was constantly frustrated by claims like “girls can’t be president” or “we can’t have a girl for president”. (My male classmates were a particularly immature lot — their idea of a joke was to declare a jihad against the girls.)
My only opponent for the position of president was Jon, a classmate whose credentials were mainly that he could play basketball well and was a boy. In fact, his nomination was considered a bit of a joke. The problem was that the boys didn’t want a girl to be president, so they would have voted for just about anybody else.
The election campaign started, and I enlisted my room-mate to help draft posters. I thought up slogans which emphasised my experience over my gender and spent hours colouring in pictures. In contrast, the masculine opposition seemed lax in their marketing efforts. I was a shoe-in, or so I thought.
But then there was a major hiccup from the other side. News reached Jon that he wouldn’t be attending boarding school for Grade 12. Instead, his parents were going back to the States, and he would be moving with them.
Frantic discussion broke out within the two boys’ dorms. The highschool guys wanted to use this opportunity to put forward a more-likely winner, because if their candidate wouldn’t win, the worst would happen: a girl would be president. So who could run against Lauren?
And in a betrayal that made obvious his immaturity, my then-boyfriend of the time was shoved forward into the candidature. JJ was a melancholy, yet sporty, fellow who liked to write poetry and swear in French. He was the right age, and quite popular among the guys, so the boys thought he would have a chance at winning.
It was all decided by breakfast. When I shared a meal with JJ in the dining hall, he didn’t say a word about it. In fact, I didn’t hear about my new political rival until my room-mate told me. (There’s nothing like a cowardice to prove someone’s true colours.)
And then the political campaign heated up. The older boys started pressuring all the younger ones to vote for JJ. I felt that there was an injustice happening. The campaign should have been waged on basis of merit, not gender!
To skip to the end of the story, the relationship didn’t survive the political campaign, which is obvious to me now, but at the time it was devastating. However, I did win the presidency of the Student Senate, and all the measly acclaim it brought during my Senior year.
After the election was over, I distinctly remember a mother telling me, “Josh told me that he voted for you, even though you are a girl — just because he thought you could do a better job.” And I didn’t know if that was a good thing or not!
I hope Julia Gillard’s position opens wide the cracks in still-biased minds, so that by the time my daughters are adults, gender will no longer be a qualifier worthy of note.
Here’s to the future, here’s to the new PM (politics-aside), and here’s to equal opportunities for women!