It was a delight to have my mentor and WA’s first female attorney general – Cheryl Edwardes AM – as the guest speaker at our recent International Women’s Day lunch. Held at the Institute of Architects, we welcomed colleagues from the Planning Institute and Landscape Architecture Institute, and there were about 90 people present on the day.
Cheryl spoke from the heart – as always – and offered up some terrific tips about balancing the work/life juggle, and progressing your career in a male dominated field. When she became the first female attorney general in 1993, she was the lone woman in cabinet for four years – a role she said was difficult and taxing at times.
Here is some of the best reflections and advice she gave us:
My sons still call me every day to talk, and that’s not by chance. I made them a part of my life every step of the way. And it’s our 45th wedding anniversary this year, and that’s my greatest achievement in life.
I learned that women think differently to men; we think about the how, and getting things done. It’s important to have women in key leadership positions in Australia and to share that experience back down with children.
Of course there were sacrifices along the way for my family – some people have suggested to me that my boys missed out, but I respond by saying they had different experiences to others. My son Scotty talked to international leaders from a young age, and he has been to the West Wing with me.
There’s no getting away from hard work. I wake early and have coffee while I read the papers, then respond to emails, and send texts and make follow-up phone calls. First comes credibility, then respect and trust.
It’s always important to see things with your own eyes. As a minister, when I was looking into a waste project, there was no way the smell was going to emanate off the briefing paper, so I had to get off my chair and go and see it for myself.
Federal politician Kate Ellis was recently criticised for “letting the side down” by leaving parliament. Not at all! Each of us is different, and she has to do what’s right to balance life for her family and her kids.
As AG I was treated abominably by other members of the profession, because I was viewed as a local suburban lawyer. But what we bring to the role – the different disposition and how you relate to people – that’s important. I had no intention of wanting to be like them, I didn’t go to an all-boys school! We bring a different perspective, and whether we have kids, or are looking after elderly parents, as individuals and as women we think differently. Don’t let those difficult people in your life demean you; that’s what they are trying to do and if they do that, they win.
It’s important to be yourself. Do things that make you feel good, from your heart and gut, not for others. There is nothing you cannot do if you set your mind to it.
Thanks to all of those who joined us for this inaugural event, and we look forward to seeing many more people – including our male colleagues and peers – at next year’s event.