In a heart-warming tribute at the Tea Rooms in Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building, just over 100 people gathered to celebrate Ruth’s illustrious and ground-breaking career.
The event included a panel, hosted by Catherine Fox AM, in which Andrea Staines OAM, Cheryl Hayman and Leah Fricke shared their reflections and personal memories of Ruth. This started a cascade of memories from others in the room.
Everything from Ruth’s sartorial (or lack of) style, quirky sense of humour and unwavering commitment to gender equity were up for discussion. Here are a few of the highlights from the evening:
Andrea Staines OAM, recalled the first time she met Ruth in 2006. “My first thought was the establishment doesn't know what's going to hit them and it’s about time. And I think I was right. I think Ruth did frighten a lot of people and frightened them into action. Not fast enough and with not enough breadth perhaps Ruth certainly made them do things they hadn’t done before. Why? Because Ruth calls a spade a spade and unless you're talking logic you won't get anywhere.”
“Ruth was also one of the first people I know who focused on ethical investment, so not only did Ruth lead in the gender diversity space she also led in the concept or possibility of investing ethically well before her time.”
When Cheryl Hayman first met Ruth she remembers being struck by her suede purple shoes. “I thought ‘here’s a very confident, supportive woman who dresses like a rock star. The thing with Ruth is that you get what you see and you definitely are not left wondering what she thinks of you.”
It was when Cheryl joined the Board of Women on Boards, along with Mary Sue Rogers, that she got to witness the interesting dynamic between Claire Braund and Ruth. “It was a little bit like sitting in Sesame Street watching the two guys [Bert and Ernie] on the balcony.
Cheryl said Ruth’s exacting sense of humour, coupled with having transformed the careers of many women, would be her greatest legacy. Cheryl also paid tribute to Women on Boards, for finding the courage and bravery to help women at all stages of their board directorship journey.
“WOB is there for everyone and I don't think there is another organisation like it. WOB is working with women who have such potential but no-one has shown them the pathway before.”
Leah Fricke told the room how she took a little longer to come around to the WOB way of thinking. “On the panel, I'm the one who did the greatest U-turn and adjustment,” Leah said. “But over time I felt like I was starting to hear Ruth say out loud the things that I was thinking but was not brave enough to say to people and that helped me grow my courage muscle around holding space on really important issues.”
Federal Court Judge, Justice Melissa Perry praised Ruth’s unique ability to portray the ‘big picture’ and how she held companies to account “and created a very innovative means of doing so in public ways which has changed corporate culture within Australia unquestionably”.
“Ruth has created a radical movement for change. And I use that word because of the momentum not because in any other sense it should be radical.”
ASX board director Margie Haseltine, who was one of the first 20 women who signed up to WOB, said she was ‘lost’ before she found Ruth and WOB.
“I started out from a private company and I was a nobody. I decided I wanted to go on to boards because I realised that boards for me was about belonging. But I had no network, I had no nothing. But then I found Ruth and without Ruth in particular, I would not have the career I have today. Today I can proudly thank Ruth, I am one of 10 or 11 per cent of female ASX Chairs in Australia and it is absolutely down to Ruth and a lady called Therese Ryan. I owe a huge amount to Women on Boards and in particular Ruth that I am where I am today. It has changed my life.
Michelle Adair, who also made reference to Ruth’s sense of humour, said the impact Ruth has had on transforming company directors was “immense”.
“She embodies a complete celebration of our individual career successes. My first board appointments all came from the WOB website. I say to everyone, what you need to do if you want to advance your career is get connected with WOB.
“The palpable difference with the paid board opportunities, the respect and the integrity and the commensurate recognition of what we're putting on the line as Directors has been emboldened and has come to be acknowledged and respected.
“And as each of our individual careers have blossomed as a direct consequence the genuine celebration of our wins, of our appointments, of our progress and beyond that, to the success of not for profits, of the government authorities and of the corporate entities that in and of themselves have ensured that our communities, our states and indeed our country has benefited by 50 per cent of our population actually having a role and making a the contribution is in no small part a consequence of Ruth’s contribution.
“When I now go to events, it's 50/50 or more because there are women whose careers have started through WOB. And it’s down to Ruth and Claire.
Amanda Mark reflected on the interesting conversations had with Ruth. “I just love the outcomes of our little snippets of conversations. It's one thing to have a conversation with it's another to actually do something about it. And Ruth was always doing something about it.”
NED and Chair, Rob Shaw, thanked Ruth for asking him to chair one of the WOBSX syndicates. “It was the most magical experience for me and Ruth I just want to thank you so much”.