Missy Higgins knew that she wanted to be a musician following a breakthrough performance as Brother Isaac in her school’s version of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when she was about 13 years old. There was never any doubt in her mind that the only thing standing in her way would be her own ability. Gender was never an issue given the array of female role models that paved the way before her.
At her concert at The Concourse on Monday night Higgins talked about the influence that former Divinyls frontwoman Chrissy Amphlett had on her aspirations to be a musician. Higgins saw this incredible woman who wasn’t willing to compromise and it made her determined to be the same should she be fortunate enough to achieve her dream to be a musician once finishing high school.
By the time Higgins was in her final year of high school there were a number of singer-songwriter-pianists who were gaining success doing the thing that she had previously hoped would differentiate her from the pack of other female musicians. So she went the other way, cutting all her hair off in an effort to take the focus off her gender, hoping instead to be accepted purely for her music.
My friend Anne, a full-time company director, faced a similar dilemma to Missy when starting out in her board career: how to differentiate herself from all of the other female chartered accountants with MBAs and extensive banking experience looking to do the same?
Anne is also an exceptional talent in her field but, as she says, there are now many talented women vying for board opportunities with similar backgrounds and experiences.
The wonderful thing about both stories is that you don’t reach the point of concerning yourself with differentiation until there are other women standing alongside you. When that critical point is reached you do have the luxury of believing that gender should no longer be the key issue.
The day after my appointment as chair of Wests Tigers I was interviewed by a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald who made mention of the fact that I was the first woman to hold the position at the club. My response was that I was looking forward to the day when gender wouldn’t be the issue but until that day I am more than happy to be flying the gender flag for NRL Chairs. At this point in time gender in that role is a visible differentiator. There are now two female NRL club chairs and I have no doubt that over time there will be many more. The visibility of a woman in that role is as important for men as it is for women. Role models create a sense of normality over time so that at some point in the future women can begin to be discussed for reasons other than gender and therefore be aligned with the assessment of our achievements. It’s outcome rather than gender that will ultimately keep you in any role.
At the Wests Tigers Grand Final lunch last week, a long-time member told me her 13-year-old daughter now aspires to be the chair of the Wests Tigers when she grows up. Music to my ears.