Last Thursday the Agency Iceberg team had the privilege of hearing Hillary Rodham Clinton, former US First Lady, US Secretary of State and the first female US Presidential nominee for a major political party, speak at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Ms Clinton gave a powerful speech that outlined four key lessons on the value of resiliency, the pervasive sexism surrounding women in the workplace, the current threats to democracy, and the crucial importance of objective journalism.
Following her speech, Clinton was interviewed by Australia’s former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, in a Q&A on Clinton’s journey into politics, how she dealt with rigorous criticism in the media, and what the future holds.
Here are our key takeaways from what was an incredibly insightful and inspiring event.
Rolling with the punches
How do you get back up and keep moving forward after nothing less than a monumental defeat? This is a question we were all eager to hear the answer to.
“After the election I was asked rather frequently – how did you even get out of bed? And yes, I’ll admit there were times when I was tempted just to pull the covers over my head. But instead, I spent time with friends and family and my two grandchildren; I read a lot, especially mystery novels – I like them because the bad guy usually gets it!”
Clinton spoke about the importance of taking time out for yourself and getting back to basics. For her this meant yoga, house and garden television, long walks, playing with her dogs, spending time with family, and consuming (in her own words) “a fair share of chardonnay, including Australian chardonnay”.
She then took action, launching Onward Together, an organisation established to lend support to young leaders and groups in politics with shared progressive values, to mobilise voters or help candidates running for office. Clinton vocalised her support for the global women’s marches, America’s fight for affordable healthcare and environmental sustainability.
Her message was clear, to get back up, you must take care of your health and wellbeing first by making use of the resources around you, and then continue fighting. The only way out is through.
Sexism in the workplace
Clinton’s insights into the sexism surrounding women in the workplace resonated with the entire team at Iceberg.
“The only way we’ll get sexism out of politics is to get more women into politics. The research is pretty clear – for men, likability and professional success go hand in hand…the more successful a man becomes, the more people like him, but with women it’s the exact opposite…women are seen favourably when we advocate for others but unfavourably when we advocate for ourselves.”
Can we get an amen? Why is it that when women are in a leading role, public support and approval declines so greatly, compared to when they are in a supporting one, such as Clinton’s role as First Lady?
Part of the reason is lack of representation, said Clinton, “just by being at the table you’re bringing a perspective that might otherwise go overlooked – you’re there to advocate for equal pay for women’s work, for more and affordable childcare”. The way forward is making the path to this table more accessible for our girls, and ensuring that our boys understand why this is so important.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll remember the media storm that followed Clinton throughout her campaign, and indeed, after. This was something our own first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard could attest to.
“There is this fear, there is this anger, even rage at women seeking power, women exercising power and people fall back on these attacks like you are a witch or you should go to prison…they know the power of misogyny and that you can plant doubts in people’s heads about women…it’s a strategy.”
Gillard added: “I, as Prime Minister was referred to as a witch, a commentator [Alan Jones] said I should be put in a chaff bag and drowned at sea, I had to point out that you couldn’t drown a witch.”
Both leaders acknowledged how sexist and judgemental the media (and society) can be when it comes to women and their appearance. Clinton shared the inconvenience of spending hours on hair, makeup and wardrobe throughout her campaign (something men don’t need to spend as much time on), only for someone to comment “can you believe she wore that?”. No matter how smart, strategic, or powerful a woman may be, the easiest way to discredit and undermine them is to “dismiss them on their looks”.
“The double standard is alive and well and it is more difficult for women in public positions…it is true in business, it’s true in the media, it is just true across the board, because there are expectations about women’s appearance that are deep in our collective DNA, so people feel free to comment”, said Clinton.
The lesson both women left us with was: we need more female representation. As Clinton pointed out, when we’re not used to seeing women in these positions (the US Presidency being just one example), the public focus on the wrong things – particularly looks.
On the turbulent state of global affairs, Clinton spoke about Russian interference in America, China’s expanding influence across the Asia Pacific, Britain’s pending exit from the EU, and the tense negotiations between North and South Korea. She warned of the importance of taking action to protect democracy and maintain trust between policy makers and citizens, highlighting Australia’s important global role and partnership with America.
Clinton warned us about fake news, and the importance of objective journalism. With technology advancing faster day by day, Clinton emphasised there is “no such thing as an alternative fact”. With Facebook becoming an increasingly influential news platform, the power of online media carries new and significant threats. Clinton highlighted how fake news reports, targeted ads and video technology putting words into people’s mouths are “impressionable”. Whilst freedom of speech is a central part of our society, with it must come an appropriate level of regulation.
So what now? Both leaders stressed the importance of moving on, moving forward and continuing to press for progress. In particular, Clinton highlighted how imperative the upcoming US November elections will be for the Democrats to regain control of the House or Senate (or both). Clinton also plans to continue teaching, speaking engagements, and most importantly, stay active as a check and balance for the White House.
Leaving the MCEC, team Iceberg left with these words ringing true: “everyone gets knocked down. What matters is whether you get back up and whether you keep going”.
Images by AAP.