How would you cope if you were called a ‘Barren Cow’ (because you chose not to have children) by a member of parliament who then went on to describe what happened to barren cows in Australia’s north? Such vicious hate campaigns were common during Julia Gillard’s time as prime minister, but she explained that our bias goes even deeper.

What a privilege it was to be able to listen to Julia’s views on women in leadership this week at a lunch time talk organised by WIMWA, Women in Mining a big thanks goes to Sabina Shugg and associates for persevering and finally bringing Julia to Perth, six or seven years of trying to make it happen.

As a lifelong student of resilience, I was awed to be meeting someone who was so courageous and dignified during her time as PM despite vicious ‘hate campaigns’.

‘She is understandably scarred by the attacks she endured (during her time as Prime Minister), said Sara Dowse when reviewing her book ‘My Story’. She was damned for choosing not to have children and had she been a mother, she would have been ‘damned’ for being a career woman. Such vitriolic, sexist attacks are hard to fathom but our gender bias is so deeply entrenched and part of who we are, that we may not even be aware of it.

Julia stood out in the room as she mingled with the crowd and she looked marvellous in her shocking pink coat with her beautifully coifed red hair…   Oops. Did I just say that? The elephant in the room of course is that women judge other women, just like men do.

As the Hon Julia Gillard said, I am making exactly the same mistake as the reporters she condemned for insisting on reporting what she wore alongside the statement that she was in Europe for important talks with NATO leaders.
Pink coat – NATO – the role of women in leadership. Hmm. I can see what’s really important so why was I so taken by the ‘look’. The problem Julia so rightly identified is that what a man wears, is not on the agenda so why do women have to measure up in terms of how they look?

A recent Harvard study worked with two non gendered groups to establish views on a leader, described to one group as male and to the other as female. Despite all of the details being the same, those discussing the attributes of the female boss, said that she would be less likeable and less successful.  Wow. How interesting is that? An intelligent group of men and women showed bias against women leaders.

Julia had to navigate that road of deep bias and vindictiveness without taking it all personally and she credits her strong sense of purpose and sense of self but even with that resilience, things at the top aren’t getting any easier. Julia now works with the Global Institute based at King’s College London which describes the rates of change at the top as ‘glacial’. At the current rate it will take 50 years for women to have equal status in the workplace. In fact, there has been a reduction in the number of women in politics which Julia attributes to a range of explicit and implicit acts to exclude women!!

Keep doing what you’re doing WIMWA to support women in leadership. You’ve got some great programmes happening.