The Conversation is running a series of pieces on key figures in Australian political history, examining how they changed the country and political debate.
When Julia Gillard was sworn into office as Australia’s first female prime minister on a chilly Canberra morning in 2010, it seemed like the ultimate glass ceiling had been smashed.
Watch: If a man lived like a woman for a day. Post continues below.
The two Es: education and equality
Born in Wales in 1961, Gillard’s family moved to Australia in 1966. She grew up in Adelaide as the daughter of a nurse and aged care worker.
Gillard was educated at local public schools before studying at the University of Adelaide and then the University of Melbourne.
She told the Harvard Business Review last year her involvement in the student movement, protesting education cutbacks, was a formative experience:
That’s what spurred an activism and engagement in public policy in me, and I went on to lead the student movement nationally … people had said, ‘You really should consider politics’. It was a slow dawning over time that it would be a fantastic way of putting my values into action — and realising that someone like me could do it.
Graduating with an arts/law degree, Gillard joined law firm Slater & Gordon in 1987 and was a partner by 1990.
While she has said she felt “quite at home in many ways” as a young woman in the “larrakin” culture of the law firm, she also worked on affirmative action campaigns in the 1990s. She was a founding member of Labor women’s support network, EMILY’s List Australia.
She continues to maintain this focus on gender and education in her post-politics advocacy.
Going to Canberra, creating history
Gillard was elected to federal parliament in 1998 and was a frontbencher by 2001. In 2007, with Labor’s election victory, she became deputy prime minister and minister for education, workplace relations and social inclusion.