More than 400 leaders from across politics, media the public and private sector gathered at the Sofitel Wentworth in Sydney to celebrate the 6th annual Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards, last week.
If the tone of the 2017 Awards–which took place on the same day the Harvey Weinstein allegations were first published in the New York Times– was feisty and defiant (who can forget 2017 Hall of Fame inductee Gillian Triggs’ call to be a bit more “vulgar “), the tone of 2018 was more reflective.
Women’s Agenda Contributing Editor Georgina Dent welcomed a group of panellists to the stage, including Senator Kristina Keneally, Journalist and TV Presenter Sandra Sully, Reconstructive Plastic Surgeon Dr. Neela Janakiramanan, and Former Australian Cricket Captain Alex Blackwell, to talk all things disruption and leadership.
When asked, “What was the most disruptive thing you ever did at work?”, Dr. Janakiramanan answered that it was having a baby while she was still in the midst of her surgical training.
Only one woman in her specialty in her state had set such a precedent, she told the slightly surprised crowd.
“I was repeatedly told that I would never complete my training,” said Dr. Janakiramanan. “That (my decision) has now helped create a space in my field for woman to have children”, she added, noting that today between 20-30 percent of all new surgical trainees are women and she is pleased to see that many in the current training cohorts are following her example and not putting off starting their families, an indication of change.
“The tide is shifting,” said Dr. Janakiramanan. “Having more women and having more visible women has made a huge difference.”
“Having now finished my training, I have a great group of women around me and as a group we have the capacity to create change,” concluded Dr. Janakiramanan.
Alex Blackwell was in a reflective mood, remarking on events of the past year, particularly for those in the LGBTQI community. Blackwell reflected on her journey to help make sport more inclusive, not just for women, but for the LGBTQI community, lamenting the fact that in its failure to do so in the past, Australia had rejected “some great champions”.
For Blackwell, 2012 and watching the day’s Hall of Fame inductee Magda Szubanski come out on the Project was a moment when she set her sights on disruption. “A shift in me occurred,” said Blackwell. “I chose not to hide anymore. To be authentic and visible.”
Senator Kristina Keneally had a very blunt answer to the question of disruption: “To be frank, I turned up and I refused to shut up. And when I was told to step aside and let some of the men have it, I said no.”
Advising women on how to handle the inevitable push back, Keneally said, “Know your purpose. Write out your goals and values and come back to it when times are tough.”
Veteran Broadcaster Sandra Sully acknowledged that 2018 was a “special time” for women, but asked “Where to after #MeToo?”
“We have to hear more men’s voices,” she said. “I want to stop going to women’s events and see more men talking about some of these issues. I don’t want to hear the feminist argument for women, but the humanist argument about nurturing better relationships for men and for women.”
Sully also had wise words regarding setting boundaries: “If you don’t show people where the picket fence is, they will trespass.”
As the anniversary of #MeToo fast approached and the possibility of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court loomed on the horizon, the 2018 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards was an occasion for many to come together, reflect on the remarkable year that’s been and express (cautious) optimism that another remarkable lies ahead.
A number of women were inducted into the ranks of Women’s Agenda leadership alumni, including journalist and activist Tracey Spicer, who was named Agenda Setter of the Year, and Magda Szubanski, who was inducted into the Women’s Agenda Hall of Fame.