Julie Bishop and Frances Adamson reveal male colleagues still steal their thunder — in cabinet and the secretaries board. They urge women to stand up for other women when this happens.
Many women will recall a time of being an Agent 99 to a Maxwell Smart — all too happy to take credit for the idea you just proposed as if it was one of their own brilliance.
International Women’s Day is more than a week away, but it’s never too early to support women breaking through the glass ceiling. In that spirit, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and her departmental secretary, Frances Adamson, swapped stories and answered questions on how to support women at a breakfast in Parliament House this morning hosted by the Institute of Public Administration Australia.
Adamson shared how women can sometimes be ignored for their contribution, telling the story of a young women in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who last week reached out to a more senior female colleague for advice:
“She’d just been at a meeting run in the department, she put forward an idea at a round-table discussion, but the chair of the meeting appeared not to notice this contribution. Later a male colleague put forward the same suggestion and was credited for it.”
Bishop leaned forward and stage-whispered: “Welcome to my world,” to cheers and nodding understanding from the 500-strong audience of mostly public-sector women.
Read more at The Mandarin: ‘Stop trying to fix women — fix the system’
Adamson continued: “I read this email and I just smiled. This young women does not realise that this can happen — of course it can happen to men too, I’m not saying it can’t — she does not realise that this is a feature of our lives whether we are sitting around the cabinet table, whether we’re sitting around, dare I say, the Secretaries Board table, the Secretaries Committee on National Security table, virtually any table, not just in Canberra but around the world.
Women in solidarity
“Other than the eye roll…” Adamson begins.
Bishop leans in again: “Which I have perfected,” to even more cheers and laughter.
“… what can we do about this?” Adamson asks.
Bishop was ready and pounced: “If you are the only women in the room,” the Liberal deputy leader began — evoking the controversial first Abbott cabinet in which Bishop was the only woman — “there’s nothing you can do about it. If there is another woman in the room, it’s incumbent on that women to say ‘Oh hang on, Frances just said that!’ and it is important.
“I get in trouble every time I say this: we do it in cabinet. Because it happens, and the women will back each other. I think Madeleine Albright’s comment, whether she actually said this or not — ‘there’s a special place reserved in Hell for women who don’t help other women’ — applies to the boardroom table as well.”
Adamson got the last word, quipping: “This is going to be life-changing for Canberra.”
Unconscious bias: time for a white paper?
The foreign minister also urged public-sector women to call out bias where they see it.
“If I could do a white paper on it I would,” Bishop told the IPAA gathering. “I don’t have any specific answers than you call out bias where you see it, and you constantly seek to make people aware of what they’re doing or what they’re saying. And you educate as to the benefits of what you’re seeking to change. I think education and awareness are two very powerful tools.”
“I’m not talking about being aggressive about it, or over-assertive. I’m talking about encouraging people to see that the view they have is actually misguided, unfounded, is not going to lead to a better outcome. Slowly and surely you can change attitudes, which hopefully will then change cultural perspectives.”
Read more at The Mandarin: More cracks in the glass ceiling: women executives increase.
Top image: RLDI/IPAA ACT.
Upcoming IPAA ACT events
Most of the Canberra-based IPAA events have been selling out quickly, but more events next month are opening up tickets:
- March 20: Artificial Intelligence and the Public Sector: Progress, Possibilities and Perils. This event will rise above the AI-hype and ask the hard questions about what it might mean for the future of government policy and services.
- March 22: Doing Policy Differently: Challenges and Insights. A new series on policy, featuring Dr Heather Smith PSM, and Frances Adamson. Tickets will open shortly.