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International Women’s Day – let’s put words into action

women supporting women

Celebrate women's achievement. Raise awareness about discrimination. Take action to drive gender parity. The goals of International Women’s Day are to the point and necessary. But women working in the media want more than a day of their employer’s attention on gender equality; half of us rate our industry’s commitment to gender equality as weak or very weak, according to the Women in Media Industry Insight Report.

We asked three members of the Women in Media community what they thought would be an effective way to support gender equality, professionally or personally, outside of International Women's Day.

Vanessa Liell wants year-round financial investment. Liell is a strategic communications specialist who works with boards and senior management on business challenges relating to climate, market, political and reputational risks. She is no stranger to senior leadership teams and their decision-making processes.

“What’s lacking from many organisations, particularly in advertising and PR, is a cash investment to enable women to realistically progress and to create genuine leadership pipelines.”

Leill said this needed to include shadowing of male leaders, quality paid training, and networking opportunities during work hours – “not before or after”. She said in addition to this, women’s roles needed to be backfilled while they took up these development initiatives so they were not then required to work during their personal time, causing burn-out. 

Liell is not alone in wanting investment in professional leadership development. The Women in Media Industry Insight Report found 63 per cent of women wanted workplace shadowing programs that provide access to leaders, particularly those in senior positions. 

“How many busy working women and mothers do you know, who have been asked to join committees or working groups, after hours, to address their own gender inequality?” – Vanessa Liell

What about initiatives already making a positive difference to women in their workplaces? 

Kate Blakeley, director of Sydney agency sales at ARN Media (formerly known as Australian Radio Network), said: “Personally, the initiative I have witnessed that has sustained the deepest impact, is mentorship. Mentorship involving senior members within and beyond our organisation.” 

“Building confidence is key for women to pursue promotions and cross-department challenges,” she said. 

“In my managerial experience, I've noticed that many competent women may hesitate to seize opportunities due to several varied, but similar, reasons.  

“However, with the support of a consistent voice or voices, we have witnessed an increased number of women putting themselves forward for broader opportunities. Myself included!”

The Women in Media Industry Insight Report’s finding that 54 per cent of women are unsure or explicitly dissatisfied with their career progression might speak to Blakeley’s observations on how helpful mentorship and encouragement is for confidence-building and women’s professional growth. 

“By consistently promoting equal opportunities, we can break down barriers and create environments where individuals can truly maximise their potential based on their unique skills and capabilities.” – Kate Blakeley

Bridie O’Kelly, a young journalist and third year university student, sees successful support for women in structural intervention strategies. 

O’Kelly was introduced to the idea of ‘gender asbestos’ when she interviewed former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick. It describes inequalities being ‘built into the structures and practices of organisations’, and Broderick tackled this through her Male Champions of Change initiative.

“This nuanced and targeted intervention strategy recognises that most power resides with men and engages the country’s most influential male leaders to redress power asymmetries,” O’Kelly said.

“This unified coalition-based tactic correlates greater gender diversity with better performance and contributed to increased representation of women on ASX 200 boards.” 

“A total of 31.3 per cent of board seats were held by women in 2020, compared to the 8.3 per cent in 2009. Now, I think that’s a win.”

“As a young journalist, I am grateful to have entered the media realm shaped by the tenacity of trailblazing women who have promoted gender equality by amplifying the visibility of women in the media. With this being said, barriers are still needing to be dismantled to accelerate gender equity.” – Bridie O’Kelly

Beyond large scale structural interventions, O’Kelly also sees value in small, everyday efforts to support women. The one thing she feels will make positive change beyond International Women’s Day is giving “proper value to ‘women’s work’”.

“It is important that the media, the private sector and communities acknowledge the unpaid work women and girls do,” she said. 

“After all, it does provide the foundation for the global economy.”

Blakeley too sees an everyday solution that rests not only with leadership, but everyone: the language we use. “Each of us has the ability to be more conscious of how we describe, label and empower individuals,” she said. 

Blakeley feels a couple more seconds of thoughtful consideration to the words we use can have a transformative impact on others. 

“It is one of the simplest ways to contribute to a more equitable and empowering environment.”

Wise words.

How will you celebrate women's achievements, raise awareness about discrimination, and take action to drive gender parity this International Women’s Day and beyond?


Bridie O’Kelly is a third-year journalism student at the University of Technology Sydney. Bridie has collaborated with both Youth Action NSW and The Sydney Morning Herald in their state and federal election coverage of young people and sat on the panel of Blacktown City Council’s 2023 Budget Forum. A recipient of the 7 News Young Achiever Award and former Report Writer for UN Youth Australia, Bridie is fervent about elevating the rich tapestry of young voices to help tackle the challenges of the Transformative Age. Bridie is a Policy and Research Officer for the Parliament of Australia. 

Kate Blakeley has worked in the media industry for close to 20 years, with experience across global media agencies and multi-platform media sales companies. She has been leading the dynamic Sydney Agency Team at ARN for over three years, though currently on maternity leave dealing with the chaos and cuteness of baby number two. Parenthood: the ultimate equaliser!

Vanessa Liell has over 25 years experience as a strategic communications professional. As CEO of Herd MSL, Vanessa and partners led its growth for more than a decade before it was fully acquired in 2017 by Publicis Groupe. In 2022, she co-founded corporate advisory firm Orizontas and Horizon GR specialising in climate, market, political and reputational risk. In 2023, she and her partners co-founded Rethink Everything specialising in sustainability.  Vanessa is a Non-Executive Director and a Casual Academic at UTS Sydney's School of Communications, winner of B&T's Women in Media PR Leadership Award, Fellow of Communications and Public Relations Australia and a Member of Chief Executive Women.


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