Are we seeing a new wave of modern day suffragettes?
Just before Christmas, I had breakfast with Lisa Wilkinson. Having recently traded breakfast television for the breakfast table, this was still a novelty for Lisa and entailed working through a fresh fruit salad, scrambled eggs with "the lot" and a healthy dose of chick chat.
I'm not going to tell you what she was wearing or how contagious her smile was, because what really stood out lies within - determination, diplomacy and humility among her many strong and positive traits.
We're here to talk about Lisa's trailblazing for women. Her recent departure from TheToday Show on Channel 9 dominated headlines in Australia and right across the world, highlighting the gender pay gap and putting it firmly back on the national (and international) agenda. Concurrently, the revelations about Harvey Weinstein and the flood of similar accusations against other "powerful" men added fuel to the women and equality debate.
Lisa comes from humble beginnings - a western suburbs Sydney girl who made her way, through hard grit and determination, to where she is today. Starting out, Lisa heeded the wise words of a friend of hers. "Find a job you love, and you'll never work another day in your life." That's exactly what she did and has since felt guilty for taking money under false pretences (she suspects a former boss might have felt the same way!).
Lisa talked about the importance of finding a job that you love, something that challenges you and not holding back because you're afraid to fail. Understanding that success is often not a straight path, but a circuitous route requiring you to make brave decisions and believing in yourself.
With no formal media training nor a uni degree, Lisa started out with a mediocre HSC pass in one hand, a Metropolitan Business College certificate in the other and a long-standing desire to be a journalist in her heart. This was enough to land Lisa her first job as a secretary/Girl Friday at Dolly magazine.
Talking about being prepared to do any task on offer, Lisa recalled being asked by the then editor at Dolly to do one of the most dreaded jobs of each edition - to go through 6 months worth of poems submitted for the Poets Corner page. The editor apologised to Lisa that most of the submissions were "shit". What the editor didn't know was that budding-journalist Lisa had herself been submitting poems to Dolly for some time in the hope of being published!
Within 6 months of starting at Dolly, Lisa was offered a cadetship as a trainee writer and another 6 months later, Lisa was offered the role of deputy editor. Twelve months later, when the then editor resigned to travel overseas, Lisa was offered the job of editor at the age of 21. So, in 2 short years, Lisa had gone from Girl Friday to editor of Dolly.
The job at Dolly was the only one Lisa ever applied for, with all subsequent roles having pursued her. Most memorable was a meeting request from Kerry Packer. The meeting was held at Packer's Palm Beach property and, following a journey involving a helicopter, a seagull infested pontoon and boat with wet seats, Lisa was introduced to Packer at the jetty. She, in a dripping wet skirt and feet covered in seagull poo, apologised to Packer for her wet behind and admitted that although she was nervous, she hadn't thought she was that nervous. Packer offered her the coveted role of running Cleo. And the rest, as they say, is history. Fist bump to that interview technique!
Lisa learned early on in her career that success would not always be met with congratulations from her colleagues and peers who, in their view (and in Lisa's), had more qualifications and experience for the job. Some roles have indeed been stretch roles which led Lisa to surround herself with the best people she could find, including people who knew more than her. She knew that she could learn from them whilst also providing them with opportunities to advance their own careers.
Lisa also talked about the privilege of being in roles where she has been able to take a break and work part-time to raise her family which she admits was "living the dream". That familiar phrase "having it all" is like an albatross around our neck. We put so much pressure on ourselves and perhaps we need to heed the advice of our former Governor-General, Quentin Bryce who said that we can have it all, just not all at the same time.
Breakfast TV was another amazing opportunity but it did come at a cost - not least the sleep deprivation associated with early morning starts and not being able to see the kids off to school each day. It also meant she was in the public eye and all that that entails, including strong viewer opinions on appearance and stylist choices, unfortunately considered just as important for a journalist and television host as for supermodels!
Viewer letters have been a source of frustration... and amusement. Take Steve who objected to Ita Buttrose, Australian of the Year, being interviewed on The Today Show. Steve wrote "I don't think you should allow Ita Buttrose on the show. She has so much to answer for. Before she started writing all that stuff in her magazine [Cleo] years ago, women were happy. They didn't need to vote or to have a licence. They didn't even know what an organism [sic] was and now they expect it every time."
Then there was Joanne, who wrote that listening to Lisa and a female co-presenter was like listening to a "chorus of cats", suggesting that Lisa's questions to Tony Abbott were biased and had probably been written by Lisa's husband. Joanne's last remark was that when Karl was away, he should be replaced by another man, not a woman. Some correspondence ensued between Lisa and Joanne and it was surprising, and somewhat shocking, to learn that Joanne had held a senior role at UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women), the organisation charged with the care, protection and promotion of women's issues throughout the world.
Lisa laments that there are still women who will not be each other's champions. She asks whether it's because we're already so harsh on ourselves and that we're all competing to make it in the insidious and omnipresent boys' club which still exists. There is no easy answer to this as there are likely many reasons why women fail to support each other.
But change is happening and Lisa believes we have Donald Trump and the likes of Harvey Weinstein to thank for this. Women around the world now feel they have nothing to lose and are rising up and challenging powerful men. The wave of change is gaining momentum and it's absolutely critical that we show young women that they're not disadvantaged by gender. We must set an example for them, pave the way and take a stand.
So, what has Lisa learned throughout her journey? At 57 years young, she thought she'd seen it all! However, she's discovered that whatever age you are, there's plenty to learn. Strength is a good thing, stick to what you believe in and always be true to yourself, listen to your inner voice and search for good work - don't settle for less.
Listening to Lisa, it's clear that hard work and humility have a lot to do with her success and the respect she garners from not only people within her industry, but also the public at large. She also has the biggest love of her supportive family which has no doubt fuelled her fire.
With breakfast finished, I reluctantly leave the table feeling full. Full of gratitude for the stories shared, full of hope for change and full of ideas as to how we can work together to achieve a world where equal opportunity for women is achieved.
Are you with us?
(With thanks to Business Chicks for hosting breakfast with Lisa Wilkinson)
Lisa Wilkinson and Natarsha Belling Copyright: Business Chicks 2017