Margaret Reynolds

on Tuesday, 22 May 2012. Posted in Leadership Interviews, Interviews about the Glass Ceiling

Margaret Reynolds

Margaret Reynolds has had an extensive career in education, public policy and social advocacy.  As a teacher for twenty years she worked in schools and teacher training institutions in Tasmania, the UK and Queensland.

In 1983 Margaret was elected to to the Australian Senate, a position she held for sixteen years. During this period she served as a Minister for three years in the Hawke Government, having responsibility for local government and regional development as well as the status of women.

During her parliamentary career she focussed on social policy development particularly in regard to the recognition of human rights and equality of opportunity for women and indigenous peoples. She was the Federal Governments representative on the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation for five years and represented the Australian Parliamentary Labor Party at the United Nations General Assembly in 1997.

Since retiring from the Senate in 1999 Margaret has focussed on her roles as National President of the United Nation Association of Australia and Chair of the Commonwealth Human Rights International Advisory Commission.

She is a Visiting Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Queensland.

In her home state she was recently appointed to chair the Women Tasmania Advisory Council.

Margaret combines speaking and writing commitments to promote a better understanding of the Australian democratic system and its responsibilities within the global community with a special focus on human rights and conflict resolution.

Interview with Margaret Reynolds

Do you think that there is an invisible barrier preventing women from reaching the highest level in your profession regardless of their accomplishments and merits?

Yes there is a barrier and in many sectors of corporate and public life. It is still highly visible!!

If yes, why do you think this exists in your profession?

Within my own experience of the parliamentary workplace there remain barriers to women reaching the top of their profession.  Firstly this is because political life is by its nature highly competitive.  The rules of the "game " have been set by men and success is still largely determined by the ability to be ruthless, aggressive and combative in the political arena. Some men may also find this style difficult to master, but many women are uncomfortable with this approach to problem solving in the work place. Those women who do adopt a "tough" exterior are seen as too mascuine and threatening to male egos, while those who opt for a more conciliatory style are seen as not up to the task. It is the classic "madonna or whore" syndrome and women politicians are frequently damned if they do and damned if they dont!!!

While the situation in Australia is slowly changing as more women are elected to our parliaments and take on senior roles, nevertheless we seem light years from having a Woman Prime Minister!!

Is this barrier in your profession penetrable? How can the barrier be dismantled in your profession?

Yes the glass ceiling in political life IS penetrable and women are succesfully challenging the male bastion of politics. However there remain barriers which limit women's full and equal participation...The major problems to be overcome are...

.......the nature of the major political parties which are by tradition male dominated and out of touch with the aspirations of women. (both potential candidates and voters)

...... the nature of Parliament, its isolation and lack of flexibility in adapting to changing relationships and family structures.

.......the inate conservatism of the media in regard to gender roles 

These barriers are constantly being challenged by women parliamentarians, but feminist solidarity is sometimes lacking with certain women finding it easier to accept a more traditional supportive role within political life. Reliance on male mentors is difficult to avoid while men dominate senior positions and some women parliamentarians find they must compromise their principles to achieve promotion.

Dismantling these barriers can only occur if more women are prepared to choose a parliamentary career and are prepared to continually challenge the out dated style of parliamentary debate and policy development.

Do you consider yourself to have broken through the Glass ceiling in your profession? If yes, how have you done this?

As a woman elected in the 1980s I was fortunate in having a number of committed feminist colleagues who supported each other and strongly advocated a feminist agenda. Did we succeed?.....Yes! ! And No!!! At a policy level we instituted legislative reform that was significant in changing attitudes and practices. However a number experienced barriers which restricted their careers and there were blatant double standards applied in certain situations.

I was among the more fortunate in achieving ministerial status and succeeding in several other senior positions. How was this possible...a combination of factors and an element of luck! I know that is not the "correct " response, but politics is essentially a question of timing ,patience and persistence (and a degree of cunning!)

In general, What do you see as the underlying cause that must be addressed to shatter the glass ceiling in corporate and public Australia?

The key cause is a long standing male chauvinism in Australia where sporting masculinity and mateship are valued ahead of intellectual achievements . This has impacted on the way politics has developed so that parliamentary debate more often resembles a game of football than a rational debate about ideas and possible resolution of conflict. The culture of the parliament will only change as society itself changes to value women and men genuinely debating issues in an atmosphere of respect and tolerance.

P.S. Yes I am an idealist!!!!!