Women in power? Hope is needed, and it will help | Women's Agenda

Women in power? Hope is needed, and it will help

For the rest of November, we’re working with Business Chicks to help counter a bad result for women in leadership in the US election — inviting women to share a note of encouragement to other women across Australia to get ambitious, to stay positive and to keep pushing for change. Below, Professor Marcia Devlin shares her response. 

Many women (and empathic men) in Australia have some understanding of the pain being felt at the moment by Hilary Clinton supporters in the USA. It isn’t that long ago that our ultimate role model of women in leadership, Julia Gillard, was ousted from the top job by a man.

At the time, if my experience and that of my family, friends and colleagues was in any way representative, we were stunned. Shocked. Disbelieving. Then angry. Furious, in fact. Writing letters. Protesting on social media. Raging. Then inconsolable. Despondent. Depressed. Then just really, really tired. Ultimately, however, over time, we recovered, mostly. Eventually, we even began to see past the ousting. And then as Gillard took up her international work, including lobbying for the education of girls and for women’s rights, we even started to feel some hope.

Hope is such a potentially powerful concept for women at times like these. Lest you might think I am some sort of Pollyanna, promoting hopeful thinking is backed by academic theory and research that says hope is what helps you navigate the ups and downs of life and keeps you moving forward (no Julia pun intended) when times get tough. Sometimes, in the absence of any other alternative, just having hope that things will improve can be what gets you through.

Around the time of Gillard’s ousting, I was able drew hope from a young child after reading a social media post. The post was a record of an exchange between a parent and this child the morning we all woke up to the first day that Julia was no longer our PM. The parent had said to the small child, ‘We have a new Prime Minister today’ and the child had replied ‘What’s her name?’

This exchange made me realise that the fact that we had had a female PM for a period of time here had given an entire generation of Australian children the notion that this was normal. All the girls (and boys) alive in the country at the time Gillard was PM have seen that a woman can get to the very, very top of public life. They might even grow up assuming that another female could do the same. They could very well assume that this was quite a normal thing to happen.

Hilary didn’t make it but she nearly made it. She got so close we could almost touch it. And eventually, inevitably, a woman will make it to President of the US. And like Julia did for the next female PM in Australia, Hilary has paved the way for the next woman and made it easier for her. And for the next one. And for the one after that. 

In the wake of disappointing news about someone who will be President of the US for a relatively short while in the scheme of human history, I encourage women everywhere to continue to lean in, lean forward, step up, put your hand up, take risks, back yourself, challenge the status quo and make the most of every opportunity available to you to build your leadership capability and future. Figure out where you want to go, work out how to get there and go. Be determined, be strategic, be smart.

But for now, be hopeful. It’s much better than the alternative.

Marcia Devlin is the 2016 winner of the Women’s Agenda Leadership Award in the Government/Public Sector category

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