Peter Mac’s Board Chair Maxine Morand is a passionate advocate for women’s equality of opportunity. Today, on International Women’s Day, she is adding her voice to the global campaign for gender parity. And her message is simple: Constantly call out where you see inequality. Here, she explains what drives her to speak out for equality. #PressforProgress #IWD2018

You started your career as a nurse and have been involved in the health sector in many different ways since then before moving into government. What prompted the change of direction in your career? 

As a nurse, you care for and are exposed to people from every demographic. That role gave me an insight into disadvantage and inequality and lead to an interest in politics and health policy.

After working at the Cancer Council I was an advisor to the Minister for Health and had great experience working on a range of policies around tobacco control, banning smoking and public health. When the opportunity came to put myself up for election, I took it. Unexpectedly, at that election, we saw a big wave a change in the Victorian electorate, which saw a lot more women, myself included, take a seat in the Victorian Parliament. I think this had a positive effect on the culture of the Parliament, which is typically a pretty aggressive male environment. It changed the dynamic and created an environment that was more open to change.

What drives you to speak out for equality and how have you seen the landscape shift for women over the years in this regard?

It’s in my DNA. I had three brothers to compete with and grew up with a sense of wanting to be treated equally. It was also the seventies, which was a very different time. Back then, girls were encouraged to go into teaching and nursing – which are still great careers – but there was not the same emphasis on considering other roles. Things are vastly different now and I would never consider that my daughter would be limited to a particular career path. We’ve seen a real generational change in that sense.

As Minister for Women’s Affairs, you led major legislative reform in women’s health, culminating in the introduction of the abortion law reform bill in 2008. Although there were many supporters of this reform, there was also strong opposition. What spurred you on during the campaign?

I wanted to make sure that my limited time in Parliament was effective. I was focused on achieving some real change and the environment I was in – with strong female representation in the Parliament, a progressive government led by a progress premier – allowed for me to pursue that change. There was a real commitment to making the most of the opportunity.

Although I wasn’t the only one targeted by those against the Abortion Law Reform Bill, their attacks made me more determined. The more people personally attacking me, the more determined it made me to stand up for change and the women who were going to be affected. It was also a reform that was very important for clinicians, so I felt like I was representing a vast number of people, who were also really committed to achieving reform.

The theme for international women’s day is press for progress – if women are to achieve gender parity, where do you think we should be focusing our energy and why?

I think we should constantly call out where we see inequality. We shouldn’t walk away from it. We should constantly question it and get people to explain the inequality, put pressure on them to justify why there aren’t more women in leadership roles or why there isn’t gender parity.

As Board Chair of Peter Mac, what do you see as the key challenges for women in health and research?

The health sector is generally very successful in terms of female leadership and representation. In the Parkville health precinct, there are three female CEOs. Women are strongly represented on Peter Mac’s Board and Executive, and in many other areas within health services. 

I am very keen to see this across research, where we typically see less female leadership. The Women in Science Parkville Precinct (WISPP) initiative is a collaborative effort to boost numbers of women in science leadership, and is one way we are working towards gender parity in research.

What advice would you give to other women who want to follow your path into leadership or as advocates for change?

The battle for equality is certainly not over. We need to continue to work hard and continue to bring about change. I think my success has been driven by determination, never giving up and staying focused on what I am trying to achieve, so my advice for other women would be the same – stay focused and never give up. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t first succeed. And support each other. Collegial support for women is so important.