Month: October 2017

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

What Would Jacinda Do?

Use WWJD to build your skills

Last week Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand’s third female Prime Minister. At 37 years old, she is also the world’s youngest female leader on the international stage.

I’ve been watching Jacinda’s campaign since she became the leader of the NZ Labour party less than three months ago. Her approach to successfully realising her ambition at a relatively young age is an inspiration for anyone interested in standing for public office.

If you need some strategies to hone your political or leadership skills, it’s time to channel your ‘inner Jacinda’.

Build your skills and confidence by asking yourself ‘What Would Jacinda Do?” Here are six steps to take for the WWJD approach and win at politics.

1 – Set your goals and work hard 

A passion to make the world a better place, from a young age can fuel a political career. Jacinda has said, that growing up in a small-town, she was moved by the inequality of poor students at her school who turned up in bare-feet, unable to afford shoes. She joined the Labour Party at 17, became involved in social justice movements, volunteered in a soup kitchen in New York then worked in the office of UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Known for her strong work ethic, at the age of 28 she became the youngest elected NZ Member of Parliament in 2008.  Now, as PM, she has pledged to tackle social issues such as child poverty and affordable housing.  

2 – Get yourself some mentors

Aspiring leaders can benefit from the support of mentors to help them access and maintain power. Ardern credits her Auntie, Marie Ardern, with getting her into politics as a teen.  Marie, a longstanding member of the Labour Party, promised the 16-year-old “I’ll teach you a little about politics” and brought the young Jacinda along to local campaigns for practical experience.  After graduating from university, Jacinda worked for NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark, who mentored the young Jacinda.  Now, as New Zealand’s third female PM, it’s fitting that Jacinda will, in turn, become an inspirational role model for women and girls all over the world.

3 – Build alliances, coalitions and networks 

If you really want to deliver change, then you need to build your influence.Jacinda is a master at building coalitions and networks; all in the name of developing a force for change. This has involved cooperation with such unlikely alliances as Winston Peters, to build a coalition government with the New Zealand First party and managed compromises with the Greens to guarantee supply.

“I’m not willing to do politics as usual — I do bring a different approach, I favour being able to collaborate where I can.” Jacinda Adern,ABC

4 – Be diplomatic and SMILE

Follow the first rule in politics; ‘turn up and be nice’. Jacinda in campaign mode followed this rule an added her personal twist of an enormous smile. In addition, her diplomacy is seen to be a key strength. It’s a no-brainer that voters want to elect someone to represent them whom they can both trust and relate to as a ‘normal’ person who seems approachable. The wave of ‘Jacindamania’ that swept NZ prior to her election showed that a lot of people warmed to her charisma. She was also praised for her diplomatic handling of incidents such as comments by Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop of “foreign interference” by NZ and questions from a male journalist on her intentions to become a mother.

5 – Millennials grab your moment

It’s time for the Gen Ys and Millennials to stand up as political leaders. Jacinda’s election as PM aligns with the generational shift seen by the recent election of other young world leaders. This includes Austria’s likely next chancellor, Sebastian Kurz (31); the Irish PM, Leo Varadkar (38); French President Emmanuel Macron (39); and the (young-ish) Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau (45). It seems the world has an appetite for youthful leaders.

6 – Never give up

It’s not over until it’s over As New Zealanders waited more than three weeks to hear who would be their next PM, Jacinda never gave up working the deal; even reportedly bringing a ginger cake to discussions with Winston Peters. The news finally came through 26 days after election day. Jacinda showed patience and ambition in equal measures, never losing her cool.

Next time you need to channel your inner Jacinda, take a moment to ask yourself What Would Jacinda Do?

Ruth McGowan OAM works as a consultant and trainer in Local Government. She is passionate about gender equality and supports women to run for political office through her Get Elected workshops. (She’s also got a bit of a fan-girl crush on Jacinda Ardern) 

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The rise of Madam Mayor

When I say the word ‘Mayor’, what picture comes to mind? For many people leaders in local government bring to mind an image of an old, white man in a black robe, wearing a gold chain; much like the dodgy Simpsons cartoon character, “Mayor Quimby’.

But things are changing across Australia.

In the past, that image of an old man as Mayor may have been accurate. Not now. Women Mayors are increasingly being elected as ‘the first amongst equals’; leaders of a council, advocating for their community and driving progressive social change. (If you meet one, just make sure not to call her ‘Lady Mayoress’! That’s only used to describe the wife of a male Mayor).

Across Australia, women candidates are being elected as councillors in local governments at a rate greater than their representation in State governments or Federal parliament. For instance, in the 2016 Victorian council elections, a record 38% women were elected as councillors and thirty-two (40%) women Mayors were elected onto 78 councils. The recent 2017 council elections in the Northern Territory in August resulted in 32% women councillors and the New South Wales council elections in September saw 36% women councillors elected.

Australian milestone

This year Australian councils have reached an important milestone in women’s representation.

For the first time, in 2017 every State and Territory of Australia now has at least 30 % women councillors

(Source: Various local government agencies, peak bodies and electoral commissions of each State and Territory)

Councils and communities are increasingly electing women to be their councillors and Mayors. We’re not quite there yet, in gender balance, but the numbers are trending up in the right direction.



Sassy Mayors

Unfortunately, the level of public scrutiny can be higher for women politicians. So, you’ve got to love it when a woman Mayor gets feisty and boldly goes into bat for her community. When women speak out, this can be frowned upon as ‘nice girls don’t do that’. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see a women Mayor step up, ignore the disproving judgments and speak passionately about something she believes in.

Take Carmen Yulin Cruz, the Mayor of San Juan, who has sass in spades. Responsible for leading the recent clean-up of Puerto Rico in the wake of devastating Hurricane Maria, she took on the President of the US, demanding more emergency support for her community (a territory of the US). The upshot was a backlash from President Trump who accused her on Twitter, of poor leadership and being ‘nasty’. To her credit, Mayor Cruz has kept a focus on helping her community, saying “I’m not going to be nice, just because I’m a woman and I’m supposed to play nice”.

Mayor Cruz being interviewed by CNN Photo: Oct 10, 2017

Women Mayors in the spotlight

Women Mayors are often at the vanguard of leading their councils in supporting what they believe is ‘progressive social change’. This year, there have been are many women Mayors that have called for tolerance and respect regarding discussions around the marriage equality discussions.

Others have taken a controversial stance on advocating for their council’s decisions to cease recognising Australia Day on January 26. In Victoria, the Mayor of Yarra City Council, Amanda Stone led the charge, followed by the Mayor of the City of Darebin, Kim le Cerf and then the Mayor of Moreland City Council, Cr Helen Davidson.  Whether you agree with these Mayors or not, they believe they are advocating for their communities. The three councils have said that the Australia Day date is offensive and inappropriate as it marks the beginning of what many people call the “invasion and oppression” of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the hands of the British settlers in 1788.

Mayor up!

Local government is known as the government ‘closest to the people’. It’s no surprise then, that when our population is 50% female, more and more women are putting their hand up to stand for council. Women are also stepping up and being elected as Mayor.

Thankfully, women Mayors are forever changing the image of ‘old white man in a robe and chain’ to that of a sassy woman, fighting for her community. You might even know one!

Ruth McGowan is a former Mayor and councillor. She works as a consultant, facilitator and mentor in local government. For 10 years she has actively been involved in campaigns to encourage and support women to stand for council

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The magic of role models

Today, on international #dayofthegirl, it’s a chance to reflect on the value of role models to young girls and women.

When I was a young girl I wanted to be a scientist. Possibly, it was a fascination with alchemy or playing with things that were a little bit dangerous! Back in the 1970’s, in rural Australia, I didn’t know any women scientists. Book, comics and films depicted crazy scientists in white lab coats; always male. Then, in primary school, I wrote a school project on Marie Curie, the Polish-French physicist who twice won the Noble prize. Even though her job eventually killed her (she died of radiation poisoning), I wanted to be like her, making amazing discoveries. However, it was hard to see how I could be that amazing woman in the white lab coat.

Thank goodness for role models. As a young teen, I met a real-life woman scientist, a friend of my older brother. Talking with her about her job and the exciting challenges, I could finally see what I could be. I was inspired to go onto university, study science and work in that field.

Years later, I was thinking about standing for election to my local council. At the time all the Councillors were men, and yes, the books, films and images of Councillors were all males too. Where could I fit? As part of my decision making, I sought the advice of a previous woman Mayor who encouraged me that of course, I could indeed be a Councillor. Through her leadership example and confidence in me, this role model inspired me to stand for council and I was successfully elected.

Be that role model

We never know when a bit of advice given here – or some support provided there – can make the difference in a woman or a girl’s life. We may not be aware that through our actions and simply being visible, we are a role model for someone else. This is especially so for younger women and girls who may be trying to imagine themselves, stepping up with confidence into an adult world.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson understands the power of sharing women’s stories to make diverse role models visible. She is the creator of the online project, #CelebratingWomen, a viral social media campaign that celebrates the stories and achievements of women from a range of backgrounds. In 2017, she committed to celebrating two women a day as role models on Twitter and Facebook. Her small action to promote positive stories of women started a ripple effect that grew into a tidal wave with hundreds of women from 37 countries being profiled (I’m number 511).

It was wonderful to meet Kirsten this week at one of the recent #CelebratingWomen events held across Australia. What struck me was her generosity in supporting women and the impact she has made through her own sphere of influence to reach out to other women. She made a powerful statement on the actions we can take to progress gender equality.

“Forget lowering the ladder back down for others to come up behind. A ladder will only ever help up one person at a time. It is possible for us all, through being role models to others, to throw down a fishing net and bring many, many women along with us”. Dr Kirstin Ferguson

We need to shift the dial

There is compelling evidence to show that if we want equality, we will need to move faster to support the empowerment of women and girls. The World Economic Forum estimates that internationally, gender equality is 170 years away; inconceivable for the #dayofthegirl. Australia is ranked 50th in the world for gender equality in our elected representatives, and we keep slipping backwards according to the international parliamentary union (IPU). Recent data from the Australian Institute of Company Directors found that women continue to be underrepresented on the boards of the top companies in this country, at 25%.

We’ve got a long way to go until the other 50% of our population is represented equally in the decision making of our corporations and public office.  As role models, we can speed things up. Let’s all be inspired by the example of #CelebratingWomen and ‘throw out the net’ to support women and girls to be more visible and have their voices heard.

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

A rising tide lifts all boats; how gender equity strengthens diversity

For many years I’ve worked to champion women leaders in the local government sector. Often this has meant challenging the existing processes and working to change the system to further the advancement of women. As a result, I’m sometimes asked; “Why the focus just on gender? What about other minority groups; aren’t they just as important?”

The short answer is ‘yes’. The longer answer involves explaining the difference between ‘equity’ and ‘equality’ and how they both relate to improving diversity.

Firstly, let’s recognise that 50.2% of the female Australian population isn’t exactly a ‘minority’. We represent an incredible pool of talent, skills and resourcefulness. But in 2017, women are still only 25% of Board directors on the ASX 200, and according to the Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency  (WGEA) women earn 15.3% less pay than men, are less likely to advance their careers as far as men, and accumulate less retirement or superannuation savings. Women don’t have equality – yet.

‘A rising tide lifts all boats’ refers to an improvement in one part of the economy, benefiting other parts. When we focus on women’s equality, the evidence shows we all benefit; nations, organisations and communities.

Equity vs Equality

Fundamentally, the difference between equity and equality is between fairness and sameness. Or, put another way, equality is the outcome we seek, equity is how we get there. In the end, we all want to be treated respectfully and have the same opportunities in our workplaces, regardless of where we live, our age, cultural background, physical abilities or the gender we identify with.

By focusing on equity, we improve diversity in three ways:

  1. When things are deliberately designed to be fair then everyone benefits from equal access to opportunities.
  2. When an organisation takes a ‘gender lens’ to what it does, then what might have seemed to be previously seen as ‘normal’ is examined in a different light, benefiting everyone.
  3. When those involved in championing gender equity bring a curiosity mindset to reviewing policy, procedures and services to address barriers to full participation of either gender, then everyone benefits, even men!

For example, changes to workplace flexibility could mean that young fathers are more able to take extended parental leave without fear of this jeopardising their careers as it becomes the ‘new normal’.

What is seen, can’t be unseen; addressing unconscious bias

It’s human nature to make quick assumptions or stereotypes about certain groups of people. When this happens outside of conscious awareness, it’s known as unconscious bias. It can be useful, but often it’s not. Think of the prejudices behind racism, sexism and ageism that can cloud thinking and lead to unfair decision-making.

When an organisation starts to identify barriers such as unconscious bias that may be preventing the full participation of women in the workforce, they also uncover barriers that may affect other groups. Training in unconscious bias can assist people to see where their prejudices and blind spots are. The aim is to help people see what they couldn’t see before about disadvantage and privilege; to make the unseen, seen. It challenges people to think about how they might respond more positively to those from different racial and cultural backgrounds to themselves.

Workplace gender equity programs are shown to lift organisational performance.  According to WGEA, the business case for gender equity is clear. It leads to tangible benefits, such as increased efficiency, productivity, innovation, creativity and improved employee engagement. Equality must be the goal if an organisation wants to avoid getting stuck in the tidal flats of business stagnation.

Those organisations that work to lift the participation of their female employees also address barriers to other groups. As the ‘tide of equality’ rises, it also lifts the ‘diverse boats’ of others from various backgrounds. We all benefit when we focus on how we can support equality for women.

Ruth McGowan OAM works as a consultant, trainer and mentor on gender equality. She is passionate about working with people to design gender equity strategies and deliver tangible outcomes for equality. She also runs training to assist people to identify their unconscious blind spots.