Inspirational female leaders stand up to sexism and misogyny at La Trobe University forum in Wodonga

If a woman is on a board or in a leadership team, she is most likely the smartest person sitting in the room.

This idea of females having to work hard to be accepted at the top was a key theme of La Trobe’s second annual women in leadership forum.

Former Wodonga La Trobe psychology student Kate Gordes is just at the start of her career as a sports psychology intern, but said she had always felt accepted.

She spent seven months of 2017 working at Richmond Football Club in the lead up to the Tigers’ premiership victory.

Although Ms Gordes described some of the football players as “meatheads”, she said they benefited from involvement in the male champions of change campaign, where influential men stand up for gender equality.

“Some of them struggle with the mindful side of psychology and think it’s not necessary, but once they’ve embraced it - and more and more of the football boys have embraced it  - they’re slowly realising that it is helping,” she said.

“It’s such a highly male-dominated field and so having female mentors who support having a female around is really helpful.”

Wodonga mayor Anna Speedie opened up about her 10-year journey on the council before she put her hand up for the top job.

Her story was typical of many women: instead of just nominating herself for leadership, she waited until she knew she could do it well.

“I wanted to make sure I could do the job well, I wanted to make sure that when I was out there I actually had the knowledge and experience,” she said.

Cr Speedie admitted she would occasionally cry at home after a bad day, but could bring herself back up with something like a visit to a school, remembering that she was in the role to make a real difference. She had also experienced sexism during her years as a councillor.

“Absolutely women get treated differently, without a shadow of a doubt,” she said.

“I’ve experienced the ‘girlie’ comment from and older gentleman, because they had traditionally made up councillors, but I’ve actually had terrible gender bias from an older woman and I found that incredibly sad … I was absolutely astounded that we as women would do that to one of our own.”

Former rural woman of the year and Voices for Indi president Alana Johnson said there was still no room for women to show perceived weakness because of some men’s “unconscious sexism and downright misogyny””.

“One of the issues that is still a barrier to women is that that they have to perform at that level better than the men because there’s not enough of us there,” she said.

“I think we can have hope.

“This antiquated, patriarchal, authoritarian style of leadership is being exposed as obsolete and people have lost trust in it.”