Speaking to a group of 14 women and girls at a lunch hosted by Women on Boards at The Women’s Club in Sydney on Wednesday, the Rt Honourable Theresa May MP said, “When I'm asked to give advice to young women in political careers, I say two things: One, be yourself, and two, persevere.
Guests at the lunch hosted by Women on Boards’ crossed generations, including Central Coast Youth of the Year Phoebe Sheridan and STEM student and budding engineer Lucy Johnson, both Year 12 students at St Joseph’s School in East Gosford, as well as 91-year old Dr Joan Castle OAM - one of the first women to graduate from Sydney University with an Honours degree in Medicine in 1953.
The former Prime Minister was in Australia for a series of talks about improving gender diversity in politics and business, particularly in leadership positions. Prime Minister from 2016-2019, Lady May is also the co-founder of Women2Win - an organisation which mentors and provides networks for women interested in becoming elected to Parliament or taking on public roles.
Lady May commended the work of Women on Boards but said there is still a lot of work to be done around mentoring and getting more women in senior positions.
“Not all women who reach senior positions encourage other women, which is why organisations such as Women on Boards is so important.”
Lady May said getting more women on boards, and into politics, was not only good for women themselves it is also a plus for any organisation.
“If you're not ensuring that you're bringing women on and putting them into senior positions, you're losing out on 50 per cent of the talent. And what organisation wants to lose out on 50 per cent of talent? It seems to me pretty simple.”
Lady May said diversity was key when it came to the quality of decision-making. “Decisions are better if they're made by a diverse group of people. If you have a group of people in government, in a parliament, in a business, all of whom are the same gender, with the same background, the same thinking, decisions would not be as good as a group where you have a variety of men and women, a variety of backgrounds, a variety of experience.”
She said there was still a big challenge getting women through the corporate pipeline into senior executive positions. As well as ensuring women get experience in the operations and financial side of business, it is also about ensuring a cultural change in the mindset of the recruiters.
While Lady May said she was optimistic about the future of women in the workforce, she highlighted there is still work to do.
“There’s still a huge amount for us to do in both the business world and the political world. When we set up Women2Win in 2005 we looked forward to a time when we didn't have to have the organisation. But it is still going, and it will keep going for some time.
"Until we see an attitude that says it doesn't matter whether it's a man or woman, it’s just about the skill set this individual has as to whether they should be our candidates or they should be appointed to this particular role.”
WOB founders Claire Braund and Ruth Medd said it was an honour to host Lady May and appreciated very much her timely remarks on improving gender diversity in politics and business, particularly in leadership positions.