Executive Producer of WOW Australia 2020 and Chair of Of One Mind Leigh Tabrett’s career trajectory has included secondary teacher, university administrator, senior public servant and board director. A quiet achiever, influential thinker, and life long gender equality advocate, Leigh is foremost a change agent. She formerly worked as an advisor to State and Federal Governments on arts and cultural, and higher education policy, and in 2000 was awarded a Public Service Medal for her contribution to higher education.
Leigh’s public service roles included Director of the Office of Higher Education and Deputy Director General of the Department of Premier and Cabinet (Head of Arts Queensland). She is now an experienced company director, business coach and consultant to the arts and community services sector. Leigh’s current Board roles include Deputy Chair Queensland Performing Arts Trust, and Director Community Services Industry Alliance (CSIA) and DV Connect.
We asked Leigh to share how WOW Australia began, her thoughts on how we can advance gender equality in Australia at a more rapid pace, and some program highlights from the upcoming WOW (Women of the World) Australia Festival taking place in Brisbane from 2-5 April 2020.
How did Women of the World (WOW) Festival Australia start?
Executive Producer of WOW, Cathy Hunt, has a long-standing personal connection to the Founder of WOW, Jude Kelly CBE. When we decided we really wanted to put some of our energies into improving the future for women and girls, we thought WOW would be a good starting point.
We originally wanted to do WOW in Brisbane in 2013, but circumstances were not right at the time. So WOW started as a partnership with the Sydney Writers’ Festival that year, and the next iteration was held in Katherine. It was a tiny little Festival at the then brand new, Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts & Culture Centre and everything has grown from there.
What makes WOW Festivals so unique?
First, WOW is a Festival, celebrating women’s achievements, their lives, stories, and their creativity. Celebration generates energy and optimism, and a belief in the possibility of change. Second, in this atmosphere, it is possible to talk honestly about difficult topics, because the context is one of sharing, of mutual support, and energy for action and change.
And the third thing is that WOW is for everyone. It actively seeks out the contributions of women and girls from all backgrounds and circumstances, because we really believe that we are all in this together, and that the more we unite our communities, the stronger we become.
What parts of the WOW Australia 2020 Festival program are you most excited about?
We can’t change the statistics on violence against women, unless men are an active part of that change. So we decided for this WOW, to hear from men who are working toward gender equality. I am really looking forward to hearing journalist David Leser (author of “Women, men and the whole damn thing”) interviewed by Jane Caro. And to the panel discussion “Owning It”, which has four male speakers – and a woman chair (Kay McGrath), of course!
I am also really excited that we have multiple activities on climate change, including a workshop and panel on “slow clothing” – how to look amazing without destroying the planet!
I also love the WOW Bites: we are surrounded by ‘ordinary’ women doing extraordinary things, and this is where their amazing-ness is revealed.
How can we accelerate achieving gender equality in Australia?
We really need a big cultural change in Australia, and this won’t happen without both leadership and sustained advocacy and action. So I’m going to nominate two things:
- we need a serious top-down approach, and
- a big grass-roots movement at family and community level.
According to the World Economic Forum’s gender equity rankings, Australia has slipped from 15th (of 115 countries) in 2006 to 44th (of 153) in 2018. This is nothing short of shameful – imagine if this was our Olympic ranking? It’s incredibly wasteful of talent and resources, and has an on-going impact on health well-being and prosperity – ironically, for everyone, not just women.
So first, we need a national commitment to change that ranking. Why shouldn’t we be in the top ten, as we are on the human development index? We need to espouse this commitment at the highest levels of government, business and community leadership. Then we need to work on all the key measures – economic participation, affordable child care, pay equity, political representation at all levels of government, women’s representation in the media, how women are treated in health services and in the law – that reinforce inequality.
At the grass roots, we need all our institutions but especially our families and dads, to take on the task of teaching each new generation of boys to value and respect women, to build relationships in which bullying and violence never have a part, and to speak up against those behaviours when we see them. The whole community has to become advocates for a new pattern of gender relations.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Working out that you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes, and that you need to welcome those lessons and incorporate them into who you are and how you work. You will be a stronger and more generous leader as a consequence.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Leadership is an extraordinary privilege. You will use it for business and personal success, of course. But you can also use it for good, to model positive values, and to make the world a better place. People really love to work for this kind of leadership, and the world really needs it right now.
Update: Unfortunately WOW Australia 2020 is unable to proceed as planned in April. See the Media Release.
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