JULIE BISHOP: I thank Ally for that kind introduction, Helen McCabe, the instigator and genius behind this initiative. I am absolutely delighted to see so many people here this evening and allow me to acknowledge a few. My former colleague the Honourable Helen Coonan, my backbench colleague, and a warrior. Julia Banks was the only Liberal to take a seat off Labor in the 2016 election. My very dear friend – Natasha Stott-Despoja – whom I appointed as Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls and who has been serving Australia since she entered the Senate at 26. And as we are in the seat of Wentworth, I congratulate Dr Kerryn Phelps on her win. I look forward to working with you in Canberra. Thank you for coming to my rescue last Saturday, demonstrating that our friendship is beyond politics. That is a story for another time and place.
Over the years, and most certainly more recently, I’ve been asked often about politics, about the role of women in politics – and more generally – about my journey. And so, as Australia’s first Female Foreign Minister, for five years, and as the Liberal Party’s first female Deputy for 11 years, and as the only women to have challenged for the Liberal Party leadership – unsuccessfully, I add – I do have some experiences to share and some observations to make.
However, anything I say tonight should not be taken as walking away from the very optimistic and confident and constructive outlook I have for politics in this country, for women, and for the opportunities that are ahead for all of us – to aspire, to inspire, to succeed, to be fulfilled and to be empowered.
As Foreign Minister, I made a point of meeting the female leaders in every country I visited, and at last count, there were about 100 to 110 trips that I made. There was this standing direction to the Foreign Affairs Department that in addition to all the other formal meeting I had, I wanted there to be an event where I would meet the business leaders that were women; the female politicians, across the public and private sector, and from Port Moresby to Tokyo, from Washington to Suva, I met thousands of women in leadership roles from every conceivable walk of life. That enabled me to see their nation through their eyes, not from the formal briefings, but from the women’s perspective – through their lens, and I believe I learnt so much about female leadership.
During my time as Foreign Minister, I also noted that many more foreign ministers were female – at last count about 30 out of the 199 countries, but nevertheless a growing number of female foreign ministers. There is kind of a foreign minister’s club. Whenever we get together we talk about who’s travelled the furthest, whose plane was cancelled, whose luggage was lost, and it builds a kind of camaraderie. I made a point – in fact I made it my business – to make the closest personal contact and engagement with other Foreign Ministers – swapping mobile phone numbers, texting, WhatsApping, because I believed that it served Australia well for the foreign ministers to be able to contact each other informally, immediately, without waiting for the bureaucracy and the protocols. It drove our departments mad, but it enabled me to alert another Foreign Minister to an issue, avert a problem, give a warning and solve issues before they became front page.
But back to the female Foreign Ministers. Over time, we started meeting formally and we would often comment about the contract between meetings when we got together and the more usual meetings, where we would be perhaps the only, or one of two women, in a room full of male Foreign Ministers. Let me give you an example. I remember in September 2016, attending the Counter ISIS Group – about 26 nations represented their foreign ministers. It was hosted by John Kerry, the Secretary of State from the US; Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia. And I was the only female, along with Federica Mogherini, who is the High Representative of the European Union – the rest were male. The discussion was brutal, aggressive, people shouting over each other, interrupting. At one point, Federica turned on a microphone and said, ‘why don’t you boys just go outside and fight it out?’
That night, I went to a meeting of the female Foreign Ministers that had attended the UN General Assembly Leaders’ Week. There were about 25 of us. We discussed the same topic, the same facts – there could not have been a greater contrast in the tone, the style, the outcomes, the narrative, and the way we saw the world.
Now, I don’t want to generalise, and I don’t want to get into stereotypes, but after seeing leadership up close, I am convinced by research that says there are different leadership styles based on gender. Of course, all elements of leadership can be prevalent in both sexes, but not equally. And I’m convinced by the research that concludes women’s leadership style is transformational, men’s style is transactional. What I mean by that, and what the research shows, is that women are more likely to build teams. They are more likely to be emotionally engaged with the individuals. They are more likely to be empathetic and sensitive to the needs of those individuals, and they are more likely to pursue professional development to achieve the goals of their team.
Men are more likely to be driven empirically, to set team goals. They are less likely to focus on the individual. It’s much more punitive, less sensitive, and they set goals and judge the team and call them to account at every step. This research concludes that transformational leadership promotes a higher morale and leads to longer-term, elevated productivity. Of course, there are strengths and weaknesses in both. But it leads me to conclude – if you’re trying to be a man, it’s a waste of a woman.
Over my time as Foreign Minister, I had the privilege of meeting and learning from a number of amazing female leaders, from Theresa May to Angela Merkel to Aung San Suu Kyi. All very different in style, but nevertheless there were some common themes. And in my specific field, I was particularly honoured to get to know and learn from three amazing former US Secretaries of State: Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton. These were three women who gave me ideas and advice on the challenges that they faced in an increasingly challenging world, and what they were trying to do to overcome these challenges. These women are what we describe as ‘woke’.
I particularly remember two significant women from the United States who were very different, but made such an impact: Samantha Power, who was the US-UN Permanent Representative, the Ambassador to the UN under the Obama Administration, and Nikki Haley, the Ambassador under the Trump Administration. They were two tough women in the most important global forum in the world; the UN Security Council, and I was inspired by both of them.
This year, I have passed a milestone. It is 20 years since I was elected to Parliament in 1998, and it is 40 years since I graduated from law school. So, I had 20 years in the law and then 20 years in politics. So, I think I have learned a little. I have still got a lot more to learn, but I thought tonight, I would just leave you with perhaps four pieces of advice, just four.
Never let anyone define who you are and what you can achieve. You set your own standards, you set your own benchmark, and you strive to meet it. And ignore those who set for you, standards that they would not or could not meet themselves. Be authentic, be yourself. A little story. I remember when I became the Aged Care Minister. I got a phone call from a senior male member of the then Prime Minister’s staff, and he said, “okay Julie, out with the power suits, no more corporate lawyer image. You’re now the Minister for Aged Care – I want to see cardigans and frocks”. And this was a full decade before Michelle Obama made them fashionable! I obliged. And then after a while, I thought, ‘This isn’t me. Why am I dressing to please somebody else? Be myself. I love fashion. “Wear what you want”. Be who you are.
Second. Back your judgment, trust your instincts, and I have to learn and relearn this lesson over and over again. Back your judgment, trust your instincts. A professional example? During 2016, the US Presidential race was capturing everybody’s attention, and I asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to send me two incoming briefs – one for the Republican candidate, one for the Democrat candidate, so that we would be prepared for whoever won. Over time, the commentators around the world believed that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in, and that was understandable given that the Trump campaign seemed to be beset by every controversy you could imagine, that would have sent lesser candidates to the wall. But I couldn’t get the Trump brief from the Department, and I was spending a lot of time in the United States during 2016. I remember coming home in September and saying to DFAT, ‘send me the Trump brief’, because I had detected support for candidate Trump from some of the most unexpected quarters and I just had a feeling that he was going to win, and I wanted to see a brief. Well, you can imagine the Department thought ‘what a waste of time’. They rolled their collective eyeballs. Can a department do that? I think so. But they sent up the brief, and so, instinctively, I knew that we had to prepare for an incoming Trump administration, and just as well we did because few other nations did and yet it gave us an opportunity, having done our homework, to engage very early on with very senior levels within the Trump Administration, and that assisted us in so many ways in some very early decisions that were taken by this Administration ended up being in our favour.
Next lesson, number three. Mentoring works. If you can find a male or female mentor, a trusted adviser, somebody that you can speak to when you are making major decisions in your life, it is so important. And on the same topic, sort of a subheading, always back other women. They are not your enemies. They might be your competitors, they are not your enemies.
In 2013, I was elected by my party room as Deputy Leader when we came into government, and as a result of that I automatically became a member of Cabinet. Automatically. Therefore, there was no woman appointed to the Cabinet in 2013, not one. And yes, it was lonely and there were times when I found it very frustrating. I was continually interrupted. I don’t know, can you guys not hear us or something? I don’t know what it is. I found that I would come up with an idea or proposal or an issue and they would move on to the next person, and then about three down, somebody would say exactly what I said, exactly what I said, and the guys – ‘ah, genius, let’s do that’. This happened time and time again, and I started to think it was me until I raised it in a scenario like this, and the women around the room were saying: yes, that happens to me. So when more women were appointed to Cabinet, we would, instinctively, say “don’t interrupt Marise, she’s speaking”, or “why have you just said that? Kelly said that five minutes ago?” And just pulling people up and reminding them that women’s voices must be heard and deserve to be heard.
Last point. You have got to enjoy it. If you are not enjoying what you’re doing, you have got to think long and hard whether you’re in the right place. If you are not getting up in the morning saying “I can’t wait to get in there and get on with it”, then think again whether you should be there. If you are deflated, if you don’t want to get into work, if you don’t want to take up the project, think about doing something else, as hard as that might be. I remember, as an articled clerk, my first job in a law firm, and I was the first woman that this firm had employed in its 100-year history other than as a cleaner or a secretary. On the first Friday night there, they invited me and my male counterpart in for partners’ drinks. So, Andrew waltzes is in and is immediately embraced by the male partners – who were talking about golf – and I was the only woman in the room and I stood there rather awkwardly, and the senior partner came up with the drinks tray and he gave it to me and said, “Would you serve the drinks?” I did and it is no coincidence that I left that firm a few months later, not just for that reason, but I knew then that this wasn’t the place for me. And as difficult as it was to leave your articles halfway through, I knew it was the right thing to do.
Two months ago – not counting – two months ago I had to make what I think was one of the hardest decisions, to resign as Deputy and then resign as Foreign Minister and leave the Cabinet. It was painful but I knew it was the right thing to do for the new leadership team. It was the right thing to do for those in Cabinet but most importantly, it was the right thing for me.
Helen, thank you so much for organising this event and this new platform. I am really excited at the opportunities that this will provide for women to share experiences and ideas and support each other, and I think the momentum will take us to a very positive place.
As I have so often said – no nation will reach its potential unless it fully engages with and harnesses the skills and talents and energy and ideas of the 50 per cent of its population that is female. In the case of Australia, that’s 51 per cent.