She’s one of Australia’s most celebrated women, but Professor Fiona Wood has told an International Women’s Day audience dealing with the glare of the media spotlight has been one of her biggest challenges.
Around 120 delegates attended the annual Women in Media’s networking event on March 8 at The Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research hosted by Channel 10’s Narelda Jacobs.
Professor Wood spoke openly about how she was catapulted into the public eye after leading a team to save Bali bombing survivors in 2002 and was awarded Australian of the Year in 2005
“It has never been on my agenda being Australian of the Year,” she said.
“It was and still is the hardest thing I have ever had to cope with- people asking me about me.”
The renowned researcher and surgeon said the connection between media and scientists was a powerful tool in shaping the future of the medical industry.
“It is this interdisciplinary collaboration that will make our tomorrow what it will be and it could not be that without us all working together,” she said.
Alongside a flourishing and impressive career as Director of the Burns Service of Western Australia and co-founder of the Fiona Wood Foundation, Professor Wood is also a mother to six adult children.
Managing a demanding career with young children was like running a “military exercise” every morning, according to Professor Wood.
“I didn’t know how stupid I was until I had a house full of teenagers,” she said.
“It is a real privilege though.”
Despite working in a male dominated industry, Professor Wood said she had never personally experienced sexual harassment in the workplace but had encountered gender prejudice.
“It was twelve years before there was another woman in plastic surgery,” she said.
“I was such an outlier and I was certainly shut down. It was discrimination on a gender basis but not on the sexual harassment side.”
As a leader in the medical profession, Professor Wood said she felt a responsibility to inspire women in the community to celebrate gender equality solutions rather than becoming consumed by the problem.
“If we all keep quiet then how are we going to affect change?” she said.
“The behaviour we walk by is the behaviour you accept for yourself, and that is really hard because it is exhausting.
“My strategy has always been to celebrate the positive and not to give the negative the airplay that it wants to suck out of you.”
Being a mother to two daughters and four boys, Professor Wood said she was interested in everybody reaching their potential.
“I would suggest to everyone that we should all facilitate the best in each other,” she said.
“I do not do coasting. The waste of human energy in coasting is a travesty.”
A poignant moment during her speech was when she urged women to stop criticising each other and instead commend people’s achievements.
“If someone has gotten to the top of the mountain, cheer, because they might offer you the hand and you might smell the air” she said.
Anna Hay is a former journalist at the Kalgoorlie Miner and is now enrolled in the ECU postgraduate broadcasting course.