Workplace relations lawyer Amie Frydenberg remembers being called ‘darling’ and kissed on the cheek by a senior lawyer in front of her male colleagues in the early days of her career.
Ms Frydenberg, 40, the wife of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, 48, was speaking at a Future Women VIP dinner in Melbourne, where she acknowledged this behaviour would never be tolerated today.
The interview canvassed her work at the firm Lander and Rogers while also raising the couple’s two children – Gemma, 5, and Blake, 2 – when her husband is away “most of the week”.
“I think guilt is a very unproductive emotion and it’s not going to get you anywhere, so I avoid it if I can,” she said.
The Frydenbergs have been in public life since Mr Frydenberg entered parliament nearly ten years ago, after winning the prestigious Victorian seat of Kooyong.
But rarely has his wife spoken publicly about her life raising their young children while pursuing her legal career.
“As you would expect, Josh is away a lot, and most of the week. I take on the burden of most of the home duties, as probably a lot of mothers do” she said.
Ms Frydenberg says her secret is to make time for herself, which includes exercise and sleep.
She stresses she does not feel guilty like so many mothers who work often do, especially mothers who work part-time.
“I haven’t done anything wrong, so why do should I feel guilty!?” she said.
“That’s a real issue for part-time working mums who feel like they are not doing the best at home, they are not doing the best at work, and they feel guilty about everything.
“I feel I do the best I can at everything I do and that’s the best I can do.
“I do make time for myself. Some people feel that’s a selfish thing, but for me, it makes me a better mum, a better wife, a better daughter, and a better sister.
Ms Frydenberg was interviewed in front of more than 100 people as part of Future Women’s VIP dinner series for Platinum members.
The event was sponsored by the newly-formed Ceramic Group, which connects legal plaintiffs and their solicitors to a panel of national and international litigation funders.
Ms Frydenberg hinted at further career ambitions, but acknowledged it is impossible for women to do it all at once. She currently finds her balance with a job-share arrangement and working three days a week.
As a specialist in workplace relations law, she acknowledged the changes in areas such as bullying and sexual harassment, especially the growth in community awareness since the #MeToo movement and increases in compensation to victims.
“I was involved in a case a couple of years ago where the compensation was in excess of $600,000.
“Now that doesn’t sound like a lot of money when you look at cases coming out of the US and UK. But for Australia, that is a big move in the right direction.”
She also recounted early sexism in her career as a young lawyer.
“I went to a mediation with the head of my department and a whole lot of barristers and QC’s.
“The mediator was a senior barrister, who was an old man – you can picture him – and he went around the room and introduced everyone and everyone was ‘mister’ whoever, and I was ‘darling’.
“And he shook everyone’s hand and he gave me a kiss and I just cringed – and we still talk about it.”
She said she is sure the partner would say something if the same thing happened today.
“We’ve had laws against sexual harassment in Australia for over thirty years. There is a lot behaviour that people got away with for a long time, now people say, ‘that’s not on’,” she said.
“It is just not OK to comment on a female’s appearance any more. It’s not OK to ask about their private life. It is not OK to call them darling in a meeting”.
The rise of two relatively young men into the roles of Prime Minister and Treasurer means Australia now has two leaders with small children at home.
In the essay, Crabb is the first person to ask Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Mr Frydenberg how they ‘juggle’ raising a young family. Unlike female leaders who are regularly asked the same question.
Both men, who are widely recognised as doting fathers, answered the question in a similar fashion.
Their answers talked about FaceTime, and weekend time in the park, and what they do to compensate for not being around.
They did not go to the daily mechanics of child rearing which seemed to be almost entirely left to their wives.
“My first thought [about the essay] was that’s pretty harsh, and then I thought about it, and I thought, ‘my kids know that their Dad is obsessed with them and loves them more than anything. What more could you ask for?’ To me, that’s the jackpot.”
Ms Frydenberg also revealed her admiration for Jenny Morrison, the wife of the Prime Minister and said they have become close as they ‘have a lot in common’.
She said on one occasion it was the weekend of the AFL Grandfinal last year and her husband surprised her by inviting them home for dinner instead of to the relative ease of a local restaurant.
“So they came over and Jenny and Scott [Morrison] are sitting at my kids craft table,” she laughed.
“They are just family people.”
At least one audience member admitted she was surprised by Ms Frydenberg, telling the room afterwards she ‘did not know what to expect but found her to be endearing, refreshing and honest’.
This is the third of the Future Women VIP dinners, which are an opportunity for members to meet a range of different and interesting women.
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