As we celebrate International Women's Day 2021, we speak with three State Members of Parliament leading the charge in the Moreton Bay Region. They just happen to be women.
Yvette D’Ath is proof that with hard work, determination and the right support, you can succeed.
The State Member for Redcliffe and Queensland Health Minister left school at 15 years of age and did everything from data entry and stocktake, wiping tables in the Festhouse at Expo 88, working in a typing pool to being an industrial advocate representing workers in the commission before entering Federal politics in 2007.
Ms D’Ath says Deirdre Swan, whom she worked for as an associate at the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission, inspired her to do what she has done and mentored her at that time.
“It was the first time I saw myself doing something beyond administrative work,” Ms D’Ath says.
“It was inspiring to see her as someone who had to work hard in a male-dominated area. She was the first female organiser and vice-president of the AWU.”
She also raised three boys and was studying law when Ms D’Ath was working with her.
“She treated me as an equal. She asked my views and involved me in decision making and I learnt so much because she did that,” she recalls.
So, has Ms D’Ath returned the favour and mentored another young woman along the way?
“I like to think I have (mentored others). I certainly look, particularly for young females who I see have so much potential to encourage them and support them in any way I can,” she says.
“I can offer advice, but understand everyone has to follow their own journey.”
She has been particularly keen to help those looking for a career in politics and government.
Ms D’Ath was in her 30s when elected to the Federal Parliament, which has been under scrutiny in recent weeks for a culture many say can be detrimental to young women and is not inclusive.
“I never felt age was an issue, but I had no doubt gender was,” she recalls.
“I think women put so much pressure on themselves to get everything right and be perfect – being the best parent and the best worker.
“They need remember they don’t have to be the best at everything, just have to be the best person they can be.”
She says she felt like she had to fight twice as hard to get the result she needed but was fortunate to work with so many talented women, who helped her see what was possible and valued her input. These included former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Jenny Macklin, Penny Wong and Tanya Plibersek.
She says state politics does not really differ in terms of pressure.
“It is different because there are more women in our party and sitting around the cabinet table,” she says.
Having women in senior leadership positions makes a difference and their approach is different and more supportive of women.
Ms D’Ath says she would love to see more women in politics and in leadership positions in the community.
“It’s a tough gig to run for parliament. Women in roles like me can always do more to support them through those early days,” she says
“It sounds cliched, but I just love that what I do. I can see the results of it in real terms and how it changes people’s lives. Sometimes, it’s the smallest things.
“I love talking to kids in our schools and seeing what potential we have in the community and in leadership roles. It makes it easier to push away the negatives of politics.”
Before politics, Nikki Boyd was an early educator working with children. She experienced the gender pay gap firsthand.
“I know so many of us want careers that make a difference in this world but, sadly, too many face the difficult choice of walking away from the careers and the work that they love simply because it is not sustainable,” she explains.
“The more time I spent campaigning with my union full-time in different female-dominated industries, the more I realised my story and my struggle was not mine alone. My story is shared by thousands of others just like me.”
Ms Boyd says the woman who inspired her to achieve what she has in life was her maternal grandmother.
“She had little, but was rich. She worked hard, had an enormous sense of duty and determination to burn,” she says.
“My local state member sparked by interest in politics when I was in grade 7. Being politically active was something I enjoyed, I never imagined politics was something for me, I never saw myself here. I’ve been really blessed with wonderful mentors through my working life.”
So, has she returned the favour for another young woman?
“It’s an open invitation I make to every community leader and I love to work with passionate people. I’ve found, no one ever tells you what it’s like to be a politician (even when you ask), so I’m really passionate about providing support so we can have more informed and active leaders in our community. Our world needs good leaders,” she says.
And she’s motivated to be a change-maker who encourages more women to enter politics.
“I’m a member of a party that values women in leadership and works really hard to get a representative caucus. The last few weeks in politics, have shone a light on the type of toxic culture that still festers in some spheres. I find that is my motivator, being a change maker,” she explains.
“It undeniably comes with challenges. I married after I was elected, my daughter is almost two years old. Balancing the demands of my role along with being a mum, is frankly really tough. Parliaments weren’t designed for us and institutional change takes time, but we see it happening. Breaking down each little barrier makes a difference. That’s incumbent upon us in these roles.”
Ms Boyd says working in public life provides an opportunity to shape our community and make change for the better.
“It’s a job that showcases Queensland at its best. Each day is different to the next and there is never a dull moment,” she says.
“I’m privileged to serve my community and I get to see so much of it. The highlights range from witnessing the selfless efforts so many make for others, being able to provide that help to someone in need or driving collective action to tackle issues. Ultimately you live out your values, that’s important to me.”
Helping people through the hardest times in their lives inspired Ali King to enter politics and continues to drive her today.
The State Member for Pumicestone grew up in a small regional town and says she knows what it’s like to struggle.
“I come from a family of strong women. My mum got us through some very hard years after dad was hurt when I was young, and she’s still my rock,” she explains.
“My grandmother was a tiny little lady who ran country pubs almost single-handedly. She was tough enough to drag kegs up from the cellar and so kind that no old shearer ever went without a hot meal or somewhere to sleep.
“I had some wonderful high school teachers who encouraged me to challenge myself and reach my potential.
“After uni I spent many years running my own businesses and also working with long term unemployed people to support them to get back into work.”
Fast-forward to 2021 and Ms King says she now has a network of brilliant women whom she turns to, in and outside of politics.
So, has she returned the favour – mentoring a young woman?
“Mentoring emerging women leaders is the best part of my job. We are, right now, setting up the first ever Pumicestone Youth Advisory Council to give young people input on the issues that matter to them.
“It’s open to everyone aged 16-25 but I’m especially looking forward to meeting young women who apply.
“In fact, I mentored a wonderful young woman during my election campaign, who is now working in my electorate office. We inspire each other every day.”
Ms King says we all have a role to play in growing more female leaders.
“If we want more women leaders, people in their lives need to ask them to step up and take on leadership roles,” she says.
“You can’t be what you can’t see, and for many women being asked to lead makes you see yourself as a leader. There also needs to be structural support. Evidence shows quotas for women in leadership improves the quality of leadership across all sectors - business, politics and not for profits.
“And, of course, there needs to be a culture that respects and values women, and supports them in the life challenges they face. Creating that respectful culture is where our Federal Parliament is failing so spectacularly at the moment.”
Ms King says there’s nothing more rewarding than working every day for what you believe in.
“When I’ve been able to help with an issue and I see them flourish, or I lobby for a local organisation and they receive the funding they need, it’s enormously satisfying,” she says.
“Right now, I’m working to deliver satellite hospitals that will help people in Pumicestone get more health care closer to home, especially for Bribie locals who are more isolated.”
What she enjoys most is meeting students at local school leadership ceremonies, knowing the future is in safe hands. She has the following advice for the current generation of young women.
“Find what you believe in, what you are good at and what you love, and make that your job. Then work as hard as you possibly can,” she says.
“Find ways to advocate for your own abilities. If you don’t feel comfortable talking yourself up, create networks of other women and actively back each other for jobs and opportunities. Don’t give in to imposter syndrome - you have just as much right to succeed as anyone else.”
This International Women’s Day the theme is “choosing to challenge”.
“I challenge everybody reading this to speak up when they notice gender bias, especially in their workplace,” she says.
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