Words by Wendy Fitzgibbon and Courtney Barrett Peters
“Don’t wait for others to open doors for you, open them yourself and sometimes knock them down!”
This typically bold and brash statement from ABC Chair, Women in Media patron and arguably Australia’s original female media disrupter, Ita Buttrose, in her opening keynote address at the 2023 Women in Media National Conference, set the tone for the two-day networking event which was held in Sydney for the first time.
The high-profile and much-admired media executive; a former editor of some of our most famous and loved magazines and newspapers, Buttrose had the 400-hundred strong crowd of delegates from the fields of journalism, politics, film, TV, advertising, marketing, technology, PR, comms, and social media spellbound, as she shared anecdotes from her incredible 66-year career with her trademark candour and wit.
The former editor of the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs, and founding editor of groundbreaking women’s magazine Cleo, told the audience that when the glossy mag launched in 1972, there were no women in Parliament, women weren’t allowed to drink in bars and pubs, abortion was illegal, there were barriers to accessing the pill and there was no no-fault divorce. Buttrose recalled that when she was editor of the Telegraph, her bank refused her a home loan.
Despite all these barriers, Buttrose rose to the top in one of the most male-dominated industries; it was this message of persistence and determination she wanted to impart to the female media professionals at the conference.
“I like to climb mountains and, when I get to the top of the mountain, I see another mountain,”
the 81-year-old said.
“You won’t always be made to feel welcome, but don’t give up.
“I say to women all the time, realise how good you are.”
That theme of advancing gender equity continued throughout the conference, with Chair of the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce Sam Mostyn AO, former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins AO, CEO of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency Mary Wooldridge, CEO of Media Diversity Australia Mariam Veiszadeh and Federal Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland, discussing current shifts and change still required.
Mostyn spoke of women’s role in the country’s productivity, saying women needed to play an equal part in all aspects of care, work, education, tax and government, whilst Veiszadeh spoke of the barriers that still exist in the workplace for women, and especially women of colour, with many corporations still employing a “sprinkling of women and a dab of colour”.
In the Changemaker in Action discussion presented by sponsor Seven Network, Australian of the Year Taryn Brumfitt shared her story and discussed the importance of body acceptance and self-compassion in the media, in her conversation with Sunrise co-host Natalie Barr.
Brumfitt urged the audience to reframe their thinking about their bodies and make the choice to be kinder to themselves. “I think: ‘I am lucky to have these arms that I can use to hug my loved ones and I am really lucky to have these legs that have run two marathons’,” she said.
Delegates learned about the changing business of media from some of the women leading our largest and most influential broadcast, print, online and platform businesses, including Head of Paramount+, Paramount ANZ Beverley McGarvey, Are Media CEO Jane Huxley and Foxtel Group Chief Commercial and Content Officer Amanda Laing, as they discussed evolving platforms, commercial realities and consumer expectation.
As the formalities of the first half of the conference wrapped up and the bubbles came out, women from across the country and at all stages of their careers, shared their highs and lows with one another. For young women in particular, the opportunity to network and rub shoulders with the best and most experienced in the business was invaluable.
Today Show co-host Sarah Abo took over the Master of Ceremonies duties from Ten’s Sandra Sully for the second day and chose to open with a reminder for attendees to celebrate the progress made so far, but to still acknowledge the work that remains.
The first panel of the day, Remaking the Rules, featuring Editor-in-Chief of Missing Perspectives Hannah Diviney, Founder of The Squiz Claire Kimball and Co-founder and CEO of Cheek Media Hannah Ferguson, discussed finding a balance for progressive media in the changing communication landscape.
Diviney spoke of the need to change the rhetoric around women’s storytelling through the incorporation of lived experiences and allowing women to be more in control of their own narratives.
“People who discount women’s storytelling and discount the value that we have, need to get with the program,”
In the Sports Outsized Impact panel session, former Matildas player Moya Dodd, Australia’s most decorated female Paralympian Ellie Cole and two-time Australian Olympian Jane Flemming OAM lauded the Matildas’ recent FIFA Women’s World Cup success and its impact both on young girls and the media and spoke passionately about how to create a more inclusive future for women in Australian sport.
Dodd referred to men’s sport as the story of ‘uninterrupted myth making’. “Where is the myth making, where are the legends in women’s sport, where are the narratives?” she asked. “There are stories to tell. Tell them!”
And in the Driving Female Narratives segment, film and television creators Bruna Papandrea, Sally Riley and Deanne Weir discussed the portrayal of women and female-led stories in television and film and their experiences in the Australian film industry as well as in Hollywood. Between them, over the past few years, these women have produced or commissioned some of the best movies and TV series, featuring women or female storylines, including Gone Girl, Wild, Big Little Lies, Nine Perfect Strangers, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, Total Control, and The Newsreader.
Papandrea spoke of the challenges facing women in the creative arts, noting: “People take fewer risks with women. You’ll get one shot; there’s a lot of pressure to achieve on that first go and, in particular, with feature film … mediocre men get way more opportunities than brilliant women do at the moment.”
One of the highlights of day two was the Craft of Journalism session featuring ABC anchor, bestselling author, and hit podcaster Leigh Sales AM, being interviewed by Samantha Jonscher, the Caroline Jones Women in Media Young Journalist’s Award recipient for 2022. In this session, Sales opened up about the genesis of her new book Storytellers; her career memorable moments and the qualities that define a great storyteller, of which she is considered to be one of Australia's best.
Sales stressed the importance of being well-rounded people, and not just journalists, and gave her top tips for journalists: to always be curious, pay attention, genuinely listen, go the extra mile, avoid judgemental bias and to genuinely care about what you do, and the story.
“One of the biggest barriers to making a genuine connection to another human being is going into conversation or interaction with a judgemental mindset … nothing will give you a poorer experience of life in the world than going through it with that kind of attitude,”
The disturbing statistic that almost a third of women working in media are thinking of leaving their job in the next 12 months, from the Women in Media Industry Insight Report 2023, was amplified as a call to arms; that more needs to be done to support and foster the careers of women in media.
Rousing all to action, Ita Buttrose told the conference that having successful women working in media had never been more important.
"It took guts and persistence to get to where we are today, and yet, there is still more to be done,”
"Women who want to be winners never give up.”
In the press:
The Australian (Fri 8th September)
The Australian (Sun 10th September)
ABC Radio - Evenings with Indira Naidoo (Rosi Doviverataand Kathy McLeish)
ABC Pacific Radio, Nesia Daily with Jacob McQuire and MIchael Chow (Rosi Doviverata)