If you believe, as I do, that talent and intellect are equally apportioned between men and women, then you know, as I know, that in any organisations’ senior ranks, if women are not relatively equally represented, then a disservice has been done.
I used my bully pulpit as Prime Minister to get more focus on this fundamental issue of gender equity in the ranks of our CEOs, in their company boardrooms, and in the public service. And while things are improving – they are not improving quickly enough.
I’ve accepted the Australian Award for Excellence in Women’s Leadership not for myself but simply in the hope that this award increases both the visibility and momentum for the push for Australian women to receive equitable access to higher levels of leadership across all industries, all parliaments, the public sector, and the broader Australian community.
Today we are raising our voices for change.
As you know, when I had an opportunity to do that on the floor of the Australian Parliament, I seized it in a speech that then ricocheted around the world. From the many conversations I have had about that speech, I know it inspired many women and girls.
But I am also conscious my treatment in public life has caused some to question, ‘Is it worth it? ” My answer is: “Absolutely.” Public life gives you the most wonderful opportunity to create change. Indeed my own experiences spur me on in encouraging women and girls to identify what it is that they wish to achieve and to continue to strive, with all their capabilities, for those things.
I call this a sense of purpose: to know what you stand for, what you want to achieve, what constitutes the defining objective of your activities. If you know your purpose, you know where you are going and why. That becomes an unstoppable force – even if only a few centimetres are gained on any given day.
Education has been my purpose. It is what I worked for as a Minister, as Deputy Prime Minister, and as Prime Minister. And my reforms will be enduring ones. The sense of purpose that drives me now is joined seamlessly to the one that drove me while I was in politics. And this is why my work, my commitment since leaving office, has been on education.
I serve as Chair of the Global Partnership for Education and as a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Today, and in the years ahead, my focus is three fold:
Access to education – because today there are 57 million children in our poorest countries do not go to school. That means that their chances in life are compromised from the outset.
Quality education – because of those in school in the poorest countries, 250 million are not learning how to read, how to write, how to do maths. This means that even with access to education, their schools are failing them, and failing their countries.
Girls education – because they are precious, equal and should be to make choices in their lives. Making sure that girls can go to school means that they will be given the keys to lifting themselves and their families out of poverty. That they will avoid child marriages. That their children will have better lives because educated mothers are more able to have their children vaccinated, ensure access to clean water, and provide for longer and healthier lives.
Sometimes events throw these issues into sharp relief. Over the past month, we have come to grips with the meaning of the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria. It is no coincidence that the terrorists took school girls. They know that education is powerful. What is harder to understand is why it took so long for this attack to seize the conscience of the world. If a few hundred of us were taken hostage here in the Shangri-La, we would be on breaking news around the world by mid-afternoon. The Nigerian attack took two weeks to resonate. But people are beginning to understand, and learn and join together in standing up against these crimes, these atrocities.
Standing up together we are always stronger. We are standing up together for women and girls here today.
That is why I am here today, and why I am so proud to accept this award on behalf of what you stand for. I am proud of what you are seeking to achieve, and inspired by your purpose. Ultimately, the collective strength of talented and capable women everywhere will continue to change the culture of our workplaces and institutions, private and public.
This is an edited extracted of a speech The Hon Julia Gillard gave at the 2014 Australian Women’s Leadership Symposium in Sydney last week, where she officially accepted the Inaugural Australian Award for Excellence in Women’s Leadership presented to her by Suzi Finkelstein, Head of School, Women & Leadership Australia..
See the full speech here.