Three years and three days ago I spent a thrilling night on twitter following talk of a leadership spill. It remains the single most exciting evening that I have ever spent with my iPhone.
The adrenalin rush that night was the result of the prospect of our first female Prime Minister. We’d never had one, it was time, could it be possible in my lifetime. I was overwhelmed when the change of leadership occurred. At that moment I truly believed anything would be possible for Australian women. Call me idealistic.
I became an admirer of Julia Gillard’s from her maiden speech as Deputy Leader years earlier. She was a tough, sassy politician who spoke her mind and was clearly determined to create positive change for our nation. She was widely admired and deservedly so. Three years later my observation is that the leadership changed her ability to communicate with the general public. Maybe she was poorly advised. Maybe she simply tried too hard to be liked.
The tragedy of last night’s spill is that Gillard has never received the credit for the job she has done as leader of our nation. For three years she was treated as a token woman in the top job as opposed to a talented and qualified Prime Minister who deserved to be there regardless of gender. My criticism of the Women for Gillard push in the dying weeks of her leadership was that it fed the gender debate and provided the mainstream media with permission to avoid discussing the positive policy achievements.
There is a difference in celebrating a Prime Minister’s gender as an opportunity creator for women, to expecting gender to be the reason to keep her in that job. I liken it to business. Every woman who reaches the top job in corporate life is a positive move for gender equality and I will openly celebrate each one. It signals that the door has opened for any woman of talent. But once in the job she needs to get the job done for all shareholders. If I have shares in a company and the stock price starts to tank I am not going to care about gender.
On the same day that our first female Prime Minister was defeated by an in-party leadership contest just month’s ahead of an election, I interviewed a Generation Y male for a senior role in my leadership team. I asked him how he liked working with strong women as I have a number of women in key roles in my team. He didn’t know how to answer the question. After a moment’s pause he offered: “I don’t see any difference between men and women”. His body language told me he wasn’t faking that response. Its why I am convinced gender inequality will fall away once Gen-Y joins the leadership ranks. And that should be positive for women who aspire to the office of Prime Minister in the future.
The thing is in the midst of a turgid gender debate that endured for three years, Prime Minister Gillard offered quality policies for Australia. While being ridiculed and criticized for everything from her jackets to her hobbies she was actually getting the job done with the NDIS, carbon tax and education reforms. She should be proud of her achievements as our leader. What a pity that one of the best speeches she gave about her record on policy and her Labor government’s achievements was her parting one last night.
Gillard in full flight speaking on policy was stunningly fearless. She had amazing courage, conviction and integrity. The fact that our PM was a woman was icing on the cake for me.
The loss of that talent from Australian politics rendered me speechless on twitter during last night’s spill. 140 characters could never say enough.