Decoding Julie Bishop

What she really meant in her rousing opening remarks at Future Women dinner.

By Angela Ledgerwood


What she really meant in her rousing opening remarks at Future Women dinner.

By Angela Ledgerwood

Julie Bishop delivered a candid, clever and impassioned off-the-cuff speech in front of a 360- strong crowd at the Future Women Off the Record event on Tuesday night. “I do have some experiences to share and some observations to make,” quipped Bishop, with a smile. Though much of the conversation was indeed “off the record” Bishop made her feelings clear in a number of areas before the tape was turned off. As the master of making a point without being controversial there were a series of messages hidden in her lines. Here we decode them for you.

1. “Women’s leadership style is transformational, men’s style is transactional.”

After seeing leadership up close, Bishop is convinced by the research that says that there are different leadership styles based on gender. Men and women build and support teams differently, said Bishop. Women are more likely to be emotionally engaged, empathetic and sensitive to the needs of the people on their teams. Among other differences, men are less likely to focus on individual’s need, and opt for more punitive approaches when it comes to accountability and judging team performance. In her experience, transformational leadership invokes higher morale and leads to longer- term elevated productivity – a win win equation.


2. “Feminist [is] not a term that I find particularly useful these days.”

This comment sparked outrage in 2014 when Bishop famously refused to embrace the label and identify as a feminist at an address to the National Press Club in 2014. On Tuesday night, as she stood, calling upon women to support and collaborate with one another, she’d never looked, and sounded, more like a feminist. Yet, she still won’t use the word.  Why would she not just come out and say it? In a political context, her stance isn’t particularly surprising. She’s being careful not to alienate the conservative base of the Liberal Party which has never liked the word. The takeaway? She might still have a future in the Party? Or perhaps she won’t be bullied into it. Or she’s just stubborn? Regardless even her critics on this point agreed she looked a lot like a first-rate feminist to everyone in the room.


3. Create Your Own Club

During Bishop’s time as foreign minister, about 30 of the 195 countries in the world had female foreign ministers. These women formed an informal club. Whenever they’d get together, they’d share stories, talk about who’d travelled the furthest, whose planes were cancelled, and whose luggage was lost. The camaraderie that transcended nationality helped out on the job too. Bishop shared an example: In September of 2016, Bishop attended the Counter-ISIS group meeting hosted by then Secretary of State for the US John Kerry and the foreign minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov with the foreign ministers of 26 nations. Bishop was the only female along with Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union. The rest were male. Bishop recalls the discussion being brutal and aggressive. “People shouting over each other, interrupting. At one point, Federica turned on a microphone and said ‘Why don’t you boys just go outside and fight it out?” That night, Bishop went to a meeting of the female foreign ministers who had attended the UN General Assembly leaders group. There the twenty-five women discussed the same topics and facts, and she says “There could not have been a greater contrast, in the tone, the style, the outcomes the narrative and the way we saw the world.”

Her message: You don’t have to be a group of foreign ministers to create your own powerful network of transformative leaders. Swap mobile numbers, text, email, meet for drinks or create a WhatsApp group and become the problem solvers in your industry.


4. “There was no woman appointed to the cabinet in 2013, not one.”

Although Bishop was infamously the only woman in then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s cabinet in 2013, she made the subtle point this was only because as deputy leader, she automatically became a part of the cabinet. A dig at Abbott about the lack of female representation in his government. Remember when he moved the Office for Women into his own department?


5. “I love fashion, wear what you want, be who you are.”

When Bishop was appointed Minister for Aged Care she was asked by one of the Prime Minister’s senior people to change how she dressed–explicitly to wear more cardigans and frocks. She obliged. Yet the former corporate lawyer with a penchant for Armani and statement jewelry didn’t feel like herself. Afterall, how can you be authentic when you’re not comfortable in your own skin? She decided to be who she was. A woman that could still care and advocate for elderly people without having to adopt a stereotype dictate by someone else. She stepped back into her stilettos and she’s never looked back.


6. “If you’re trying to be a man, it’s a waste of a woman.”

Undoubtedly the quote of the night. We can’t know for sure when and how she came to it but it certainly reflects her trailblazing 40 years as a professional women in a man’s world. And it’s not bad for someone who doesn’t call herself a feminist.


7. “No nation will reach its potential, unless it fully engages with and harnesses the skills and talents and energy and ideas of the 50 per cent of its population that is female, in the case of Australia that’s 51 per cent.”

Met with whistles and applause, Bishop again using her mastery of a pause, a smile to make a point. In this instance she was saying there are more of us. On that point alone women should be 50% of the parliament not 30%.

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