I gave my first National Press Club speech as president of Chief Executive Women seven months ago. Two reasons: one, to represent women leaders who for the first time had collectively entered the national policy debate; and two, to urgently change the focus around the economy, from hi-vis, to care.
The audience was almost all women and just one man from the press gallery, Mark Kenny. I’m assuming the others thought a speech about women’s economic participation didn’t rate as good economics or good politics.
I said: “We hear a lot about . . . ‘muscling up to threats’ and ‘building back better’. But what we never hear is how care and economic performance and success go hand in hand.”
There was one clear thrust: women want care at the centre of the economy.
Women should have their place at every leadership and policy table, I said on behalf of battalions: campaigners, academics, researchers, and advocates. The speech outlined five key policy asks for anyone standing for election: commitments to reforming childcare and paid parental leave; reviewing chronic underpayment of women across care sectors; adopting all recommendations of the Respect@Work report and achieving gender balance in the federal cabinet.
One man got the message. NSW Treasurer Matt Kean called me directly the next day. He said the speech was a clear call to action and his office was looking at women’s workforce participation in NSW. He said: “I loved the speech and I want to make a once-in-a-generation commitment to solving the gap in women and mens’ workforce participation, and guaranteeing safety and respect for women in NSW.”
He wanted to deliver the 2022 NSW Budget with women at its core. The scale of his ambition surprised me, but I had confidence in his ability to achieve reform on gender equality, because of his action on climate. And with a team of policy advisors led by Ava Hancock, and Treasury officials, led by Jenny Merkley, the ambition felt well-placed.
He asked if I would chair an independent expert panel for the work. I immediately agreed. We set about building a small group of experts who could work quickly to meet a tight budget timetable. The unique combination of skills and lived experiences of Maha Abdo, Blair Comley, Leslie Loble, Jillian Kilby and Daisy Turnbull proved exceptional. We knew we weren’t representative of all women across the state, but we consulted widely and often.