Elizabeth Broderick: 'Do what you can, when you can, and you can change the world.'

Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick has identified the achievement that has given her the most satisfaction during her eight-year term.

“When I went into organisations eight years ago I could have a conversation about sexual harassment, but when I tried to move it into domestic violence I was told: ‘stop that’s a private issue that’s outside the workplace, we have no responsibility’,” she says.

“That’s changed, and that’s fantastic.”

The woman who confesses she doubted her ability to handle one of the most important jobs in the country is feeling upbeat about women’s rising role in public life.

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“I thought I’ll never be able to do this, I’m not extraordinary; but I’ve learnt you don’t have to be, you can be ordinary punter.  It’s about doing what you can, when you can and that’s how you end up being able to change the world.”

Elizabeth Broderick at home

Thanks to a number of conversations, inquiries and campaigns for change aimed at powerful men Liz has helped double the number of women on the Boards of the Top 200 Companies. Her inquiry into discrimination against pregnant women led to a massive awareness of women's rights and bosses' responsibilities.

And she has also seen society transform in her time at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission: once, women opted to work, today most have little choice and little inclination to bow out after having babies; from a time when Australia trailed much of the world in parental leave to the introduction of today's national scheme. (That said, Liz is deeply aware the scheme is already being wound back and Tony Abbott's promised plan of six months pay now seems like a distant discarded dream.)

She says she's seen some backlash by some blokes, but also a massive increase in awareness by men and business leaders that women have a lot to offer in the workplace - and that men have a lot to offer at home.

She actively involved men in the fight for equality, lobbying powerful 'Male Champions of Change' to rework a system that skewed strongly in favour of males. Some called their process of enlightenment "being 'Brodericked", but many have embraced her message.

"The traditional stereotypes are changing and that's got to be a good thing. But I guess it is about men and women negotiating how they live their lives together. That uncertainty brings confusion, but we are definitely moving in the right direction."


She'd love to see men have more time off to care for kids, or even parents.

"We've seen men put their hands up and want to be more involved fathers than their dads were, and we've seen some big companies step up on this and change the conversation. In Telstra there's been a threefold increase in men taking family leave. That will change things big time".

So what's next for a woman who has worked so hard to uphold the rights of other women?

Like most women, she needs a break.

"I've loved everything about the role. It's been my dream job and I've given it everything I've got. But now will be a time of rejuvenation," she says. "I don't intend to fade to black, I'll come back re-energised and revitalised with a small number of high impact roles that continue to elevate women's voices to a higher level."

And Liz wants other women to feel okay about doing the same thing when they need to.

"We're not taking the system down if we take time out to do that.

"I'm looking forward to moving from 'frenetic doing' to just 'being' ... replenishing emotionally and re-energising is important. It will be a time of personal growth. I won't be going to a well-being resort, but I want to experience stillness, meditation, connection to my family and to my friends I haven't had time to see, to reconnect with those relationships that sustain me and will continue to sustain me."

She says nurturing and caring is our 'ultimate humanity."

"Caring is the most important work we do every day, but the challenge is how do we balance it with work. Work and care shouldn't be at opposite ends of hard choice."

As she leaves to rest, recuperate and regroup Liz has a final lesson for women of all ages and at all stages.

"Women are equally ambitious as men," she says. "The system is still routed to the male life trajectory, but I encourage women to take risks. It's important for women to know they are powerful and influential as are men. Own that power and put yourself forward".

Liz, the Mamamia Women's Network thanks you. We would salute you ... but we reckon you deserve a big hug and a kiss instead.

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