In November, I was lucky enough to meet Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister. Julia is the patron of the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation, and I am an ambassador and 2012 grant recipient. I admire Julia a lot, and was so excited to be invited to the women in leadership luncheon event. I had seen her speak in 2013 and was inspired then.
It was a stinking hot day in Sydney and so after an early arrival and a 10 minute walk from the train station to the hotel, I was a bit exhausted. So I stayed in the hotel all day. It was great to get there early as it meant I could spend time with the other ambassadors (Parrys Raines and Mel Thomas) help the Aim for the Stars team prepare for Julia’s arrival.
Before the luncheon, Julia addressed a group of female students aged 12-17. They were recipients of Make A Mark Project scholarships to attend the lunch. And these girls were amazing. Parrys and I interviewed them on camera, asking them their goals and why they admired Julia Gillard. One girl I interviewed gave me such a mature, complex description about her career plans, I was lost for words! Girls said they want to be social workers, human rights lawyers, environmentalists.
Mel then warmed the girls up by talking about the Foundation and her work running KYUP! Project (empowering girls to grow up free from violence). She was an excellent host. Parrys Parrys spoke of her initiative – climate change activism – and achievements – she’d just been on stage with Pharell Williams, discussing climate change in LA. This woman is 21 and has accomplished so much.
I then spoke about my writing and activism, and the girls had excellent questions. Questions included whether the government is doing enough for people with disability? How do I balance things? Was my ichthyosis community there in real life before you started blogging? How do I cope with criticism? I loved how broadly they thought.
And then Julia arrived! We had practiced standing and clapping but I think our practice was forgotten in the excitement!
Julia spent 10 minutes speaking about the importance of education. “Never take your education for granted”, she said. Julia is currently Chair of Global Partnership for Education.
She mentioned inequity across the developed and third worlds, and also about local education. She praised public education, saying she received quality education from state schools in South Australia.
After she spoke to the students, Layne Beachley introduced Parrys, Mel and I to Julia. Our conversation was very brief – Layne reminded us about our elevator pitches, and so I told Julia about my writing and thanked her for the NDIS. I gave her my card, and she said “I must catch up with your blog”. I was totally fangirling. We then had photos, and she was very funny, offering to sprawl across the grand piano.
|Mel Thomas, Julia Gillard, Parrys Raines and I|
The luncheon commenced with Layne Beachley opening it. She spoke of why she started the Foundation, and told us a hilarious story of her interaction with Kevin Rudd (Julia’s predecessor).
|Layne Beachley and I|
Julia was also was very funny during her keynote speech, referring to 50 Shades of Grey, and talking football with MC Holly Ransom. Here’s what she taught me.
1. “Hone your sense of purpose.”
Julia said she believes it’s important to advocate for something more thoughtful than slogan selection. She said the best piece of advice she received was from a mentor who told her, in the midst of all of the chaos, Julia should sit down and write down her sense of purpose. “On the toughest of days, the worst of days, it was a touch stone, reminding me what I was in for.”
2. “I’ve never defined myself through approval from others. I always had an inner reserve within myself when I didn’t feel liked.”
3. On the impact of social media: “If it [nastiness] comes in on Twitter after midnight, it’s fuelled by alcohol not acumen, and don’t let it get in your head.”
4. “Find discipline to take time to do what matters.”
Julia said “never has the urgent been more privileged.” She encouraged us to think about taking time to get urgent done versus taking time to get what matters done.
5. “I think alone and with the best and brightest around me.” PJulia spoke of the importance of a support network. “You will need people around you on your side. You need their loving and nurturing support as you give them. You’ve got to surround yourself with people who care for you. Remember make the time to support and care for them in return.”
6. “While I don’t underestimate the challenges and prejudice in this world, I’m a huge optimist.”
Julia talked about gender inequality and stereotypes and strongly believes that education will improve this.
7. “Think big. It will pay dividends.”Enough said.
No matter what side of politics you lean, Julia’s wisdom is universally applicable. She is so warm and articulate and very funny.
There were also three other female leaders on the speaking panel: Cindy Hook – CEO Deloitte, Louise Herron – CEO Sydney Opera House and Cathy Foley from CSIRO. They had some great messages – my biggest take homes were from Cathy Foley who is both a scientist and a comedian.
“Don’t be a victim As soon as you become a victim you’re giving up.”
“To be different you have to do different.”
“Never go to work without knowing what’s for dinner tonight. My husband taught me this and I married him.”
“Never go to bed without knowing what you’re wearing next morning.”
“Housework – don’t worry about that.”
After the luncheon, I spoke to Kirk Pengilly (Layne’s husband) and the first thing I told him was that Camille had her transplant. When I met him in 2012, he called her.
|Kirk Pengilly and I|
And then I met my second cousin Ben, he works for Deloitte.
|Carly Findlay and Ben Findlay|
Such a good surprise!
He introduced me to Julia Gillard’s partner who was just lovely.
And I finally met Kate Sutton, founder of UberKate Jewels.
|With Kate Sutton from UberKate|
It was SUCH a wonderful event and I returned from Sydney feeling tired yet empowered. Meeting Julia Gillard was a bucket list item ticked off, and hearing from so many successful female leaders gave me lots of ideas and inspiration.
|Mel Thomas, Julia Gillard, Parrys Raines, me and Layne Beachley|
I attended the luncheon as an ambassador for Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation. I paid for my own airfare.