JULIE BISHOP: Thank you Sharri, thank you John, to the Master Builders Association and Bankwest, I’m delighted to be at this luncheon to celebrate the achievements of women in building and construction. And may I add my congratulations to Aly as the first female Apprentice of the Year? And may she pave the way for many others to follow.
I thought I’d talk about being a first female, and I was honoured five years ago to be appointed as our Foreign Minister, the first woman to take that role in over 100 years. I thought at the time that I could gauge one element of the success in that role if I made it easier, not harder, for other women to follow. And I think I get a tick because my successor in the role as Foreign Minister, is Senator Marise Payne, the second female Foreign Minister of Australia. That’s an important point because it’s all very well to be the first, but if we are to achieve gender equality, gender equity, then we need to ensure that we not only break the glass ceiling but others following through. I’ve said often that no nation will reach its potential unless it fully engages with and harnesses the skills, the talents, ideas and abilities of the 50 per cent of the population that is female. Indeed, in Australia’s case, that’s 51 per cent. Just a shout out to all the boys out there.
I was able to identify women around the world in the field of foreign policy to be mentors for me, and I was lucky enough to meet the three former Foreign Secretaries of the United States – the Secretaries of State in Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton, and they were trailblazers in their own right and I learned a great deal from not only talking to them but listening to what they had to say about the challenges that they faced in what is essentially a male-dominated sphere – international affairs and foreign policy globally.
It was interesting in my five years as Foreign Minister how things started to change. I recall for the first time that a group of female Foreign Ministers suggested that we should get together on the sides of the UN General Assembly Leaders World Meeting, which is held in New York at the United Nations every year, and there were a few of us who came together for drinks and then we appreciated how much we had in common, although we came from all four corners of the globe. And then over time, the informal meetings became more formal, and last year, we had a specific dinner for the female Foreign Ministers and about 30 women attended. What was interesting was that during the course of the day, I had attended a meeting of about 25 Foreign Ministers – they were all male except Federica Mogherini, who is the equivalent to the European Union’s Foreign Minister and me – and we were discussing counter-terrorism, the threat of terrorism, ISIS, and how we will deal with conflict in the Middle East. The debate descended into a shouting match between a number of the Foreign Ministers began. It was somewhat testosterone-driven, and it descended into a very deep argument and nothing was achieved.
That night the 30 Foreign Ministers – all female, gathered and we discussed exactly the same topics, same issues, same challenges, yet, there was a vast difference in tone, content and outcome. It made me think long and hard about the differences that women bring to the table. I’m not saying one approach is right, that provides all the answers, or that another approach is wrong. It doesn’t discriminate, nor am I seeking to generalise, but I have always believed that men and women bring vastly different perspectives to their world view or indeed, their own view.
This goes back a long, long way. John mentioned that the Masters Builders is 120 years old. Did you know that this is the 150th year since Little Women was published? Now, that happened to be one of my favourite books growing up, Little Women. I read it until I could quote it back. I saw the movie more times than was probably healthy, and I think what captured my imagination was the fact that it portrayed four sisters who had vastly different personalities, yet reflected the strengths of women. This is a book set in the United States during the Civil War and the only reason I mention it is that another movie, Little Women, is coming out this year and I can’t wait to see it.
For those of you who may have read the book but if you haven’t, it is still absolutely delightful all these years later. Meg, the compassionate one, Jo, the fiercely independent one, Amy the ambitious one and Beth the empathetic one. All qualities that you see in female leaders. Now, there’s a lot of research has been done on the different styles, leadership styles between men and women, and essentially it breaks down to two categories – women are seen as more transformational, men as more transactional. Again, I make no judgement, that’s the way the evidence pans out.
Women are more likely to build teams and use professional development to set goals. Women are more likely to focus on sensitivities and emotions of the individual. They are more likely to be empathetic to the concerns of individuals.
Men empirically, set team goals. They judge team performance every step of the way but are less interested or concerned in the individual, it is more about the team.
Either approach has upsides and downsides but the research that’s been undertaken shows that the transformational leadership builds greater and longer-term elevated levels of productivity. So why wouldn’t you, if you were a board or a company or an organisation, seek to have more women in an organisation, bringing their particular perspectives, skills, and views to the table? So I congratulate women in the building and construction industries for focusing on the issues of the pay gap, gender equality more specifically, because I believe that nations, organisations, entities will be better served overall if there is greater diversity, particularly a gender diversity, in the ranks. This is all very well from me, coming from the Liberal Party, giving you this advice. We have an unacceptably low number of women representing our party federally, and I believe that we could all do better in attracting talented, competent women to roles including as elected representatives.
I’m not suggesting people should be elected to Parliament because they are a woman, far from it, but I do not believe we are trying hard enough to find competent women to stand for election to Parliament. I was brought up to believe that entering public office was one of the highest callings and that if you were given the opportunity to dedicate your efforts and energies and abilities to the betterment of your community or your state or your country, then that is one of the greatest contributions you could make, and I just hope that other women and men feel similarly and could be inspired to enter public office. We are looking for more leadership locally, nationally, internationally.
We are looking for more people to take on the leadership roles that we are going to so desperately need, as the world is more contested, more congested, more competitive. I was in Dubai recently speaking at the World Economic Forum and this is a precursor to Davos, and they were focusing on a challenge that is gender neutral but it is a challenge for all businesses and organisations across the world, and that is the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Technological advances are occurring at a scale and pace unprecedented in human history, whether it is artificial intelligence, or robotics, or the internet of things – it is disrupting the way that we live and work and engage, the way we think, the way we travel. This huge technological impact is going to change the future of work and the future of jobs. The World Economic Forum released a report which had surveyed about 300 businesses over 20 nations or more and represented about 15 million people in terms of workforce. And the CEOs were asked, What are the technological advances that are going to transform your workplace?
They said, it came down to four: much wider access to high-speed mobile, robotics, big data and cloud-based technologies. It would utterly change the way work is done, business is done, how we operate. And so, the challenge has to be for businesses and entities and organisations are you going to put a priority on automating work that’s currently being done by your employees, or are you going to augment the skills of your employees so that they can utilise technology? The survey came up with some interesting results; about half those surveyed said they expected to lose about half their workforce due to automation over the next four years. Others, about 40 per cent, said they expected to increase their workforce as technology augments the skills of workers through reskilling, re-educating, relearning. About 25-percent thought there would be new jobs that are going to appear in the coming years because of technology. So with all the fear about robotics and AI and automation, I actually think there’s a magnificent opportunity to re-skill, re-learn, re-educate our workforce, to take advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, so that we augment the skills of our workforce; harnessing technology, rather than replacing.
I am reminded that recently a bricklaying firm in Perth announced that they are now using robots to lay bricks and I thought well that’s all very well, but what do you do about all the bricklayers in Australia? But what it came down to is using the intelligence and judgement and skills of a human workforce, just augmenting the work of technology. The robots can go off and do that bit, but people still use their human skills to make the business more productive, work more efficiently, more effectively. So these are challenges that we all face but it is going to require leadership and skills and vision. I also think that we are going to need many more women in science, technology, engineering, maths subjects and while the future doesn’t mean that everyone has to be a data coder, there will still be huge demand for human skills. I think that is inevitable that there will be a significant demand for women with STEM skills and capabilities. And that is a challenge for our schools, our universities indeed for our primary schools because in my experience, if you are not exposed to the joys and curiosity of maths and science at primary school, you’re unlikely to be curious and enthused in secondary school and that means you won’t go on to study it in higher education. So a real challenge for our primary schools.
I resigned as the Foreign Minister a few months ago as I wanted to give the new leadership team an opportunity to put their stamp on government and implement their particular policies and initiatives. In the time since, I have been asked to speak at a number of events about the period I spent as Foreign Minister and looking back over 20 years as a politician and I have been asked, what have you learnt in that time? I’ve learnt a lot of things but I guess my advice to women in particular comes down to four headings.
The first is, never let anyone else define who you are. Set your own high standards and strive and aspire to meet them. There are plenty of people who will set for you standards that they can’t or won’t achieve themselves. So don’t let others define who you are and what you can do – you know that.
Secondly, back your judgement, back your instincts. I always find that the times that I don’t are the times that I get into trouble. If I backed my instincts as to what was right for me to do, then I probably would have been more comfortable with some the outcomes over the years.
And that segues into a third, mentoring works. Finding a male or female who you can trust, whose views you value, who has an interest in your welfare and your well-being is utterly invaluable. In fact, there is empirical evidence to prove that mentoring will lead to better outcomes for you. So, it does work and I encourage you to either enter into formal or informal mentoring arrangements. As Foreign Minister, we implemented a program for women in the Pacific – one of my passions as Foreign Minister was to empower the women and girls of the Pacific. And one of the last initiatives that we set up before I resigned was a formal mentoring program for Pacific Island women who we had won an Australian award, that means they would come to Australia and study a masters or a PhD in one of our institutions and go back to the Pacific and then we lost contact with them as a nation. So we set up a program whereby women in Australia who were in business or industry or not-for-profit or government have been matched with one of our alumni in the Pacific. A good example is Nola Marino, the Chief Government Whip in the Federal Parliament. Nola has been paired as a mentor with a young woman who studied in Australia and wants to be the Auditor-General of Vanuatu, so she is back in the public service in Vanuatu. Through that mentoring program, she contacts Nola, they talk about things, she runs ideas past her. Just at different points in your career, it’s so useful to have someone who is a shoulder to lean on.
And my last piece of advice is, you have got to be having fun. If you are not enjoying what you are doing, if you are not getting out of bed in the morning and saying “yay, I can’t wait to get into the office or get to work or continue what I’m doing”, then you really should have a long hard think about whether you’re in the right position, in the right job. I have absolutely loved every minute of what I have done in federal politics, the last 20 years. The excitement of getting on with what the day offers has driven me, the adrenaline has always been there. But I have been in positions in the past where I knew I wasn’t in the right place and it only gets worse. You really have to begin by backing your judgement to say, “this isn’t where I should be”. My mother always used to say to me, “you go this way but once”. And if you think about it, it’s a pretty powerful message. You have got to make the most out of this one life that you have and if you’re not enjoying where you are, and if you’re not feeling stimulated and nurtured and supported then you should find somewhere where you will achieve that. So thank you for inviting me here today. I am delighted to see so many women in building and construction and I’ll be more than happy to answer your questions.
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