Season 2 - Ep. 7 | Power, Politics and Purpose: Leadership Lessons with Former PM of Australia Julia Gillard

Redefiners Podcast
Hosted By:
April 27, 2022 | 38 min
Our guest
Hon Julia Gillard AC | 27th Prime Minister of Australia

“I think clarity about purpose is the thing that can help you be far more resilient in the moment compared with almost anything else. ”

There are a lot of parallels between running a country and running a company. Julia Gillard, 27th Prime Minister of Australia, joins us to discuss topics critical to leaders at any level. She shares some of the most challenging moments she faced throughout her rise in politics and tenure as Prime Minister, from delivering her now-famous “Misogyny Speech” on the Parliamentary floor to navigating through the global financial crisis. She also shares lessons about how we can (actually) get more women into top leadership positions, the topic of her recent book Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons, co-authored with Director of the World Trade Organization Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Here’s a taste of what you’ll hear from Julia in this episode, in her words (edited for length and clarity):

Julia’s Redefiner Moment: Finding a higher purpose through higher education

I came from a family home where neither of my parents had been able to finish secondary school. They went on to live very long and happy lives, but they were always quite wistful about what could have been had they finished school. And so drummed into my sister and I was this sense that education was really important.

I took that sense with me to university. I thought being there was a really precious thing. At the time there were some major government cutbacks to education funding. I thought this was wrong because it would jeopardize the right of kids like me from families like mine to go on to higher education. And that cause led me into activism, public policy advocacy, student unionism. Slowly the penny dropped that the best place to make a difference was the parliament.

On creating resiliency for black swan events

When I became prime minister, we were still dealing with the consequences of the global financial crisis. What I learned from that is that the time spent war gaming for the so-called black swan events, the things that might seem low probability but really should be planned for, is never wasted.

In the days and years since I've had the opportunity to sit with boards and say, "Let's just shoot the breeze for a while and think about things that might be quite improbable, but if they happened, would be of high consequence." I think that's time well spent. But I think the time you spend looking inwards to find the resilience for the crisis is also time well spent. Your natural instinct is just go at it, go at it, go at it, work harder, work harder, work harder. But you do need some rest and reflection time. Because the crises in our world don't tend to be 24 hour wonders. They're longer-lived than that.

On what she learned co-authoring a book on women in leadership

I think the issues are the same for women who are at the top of business, non-government organizations, civil society, the law, news media, technology, and more, as well as politics. If I was going to really snapshot those issues, I would say we've got to get away from fixing women, telling women to do things differently, and start fixing structures and eradicating stereotypes.

The research shows very clearly that all of us, because we've grown up in a gendered environment, have gendered stereotypes in the back of our brain. We tend to correlate men and leadership and we don't do the same for women. That’s not a “Lean In” problem. That's a kind of structures, stereotypes, group dynamics problem. They play out differently in different organizations and contexts, but they play out everywhere.

On how early defeats paved the way for Julia taking the highest office

In our political system in Australia, you need to be pre-selected by a political party. I ended up putting myself forward for pre-selection three or four times and getting rejected, and then I stood on the Labor party's Senate ticket and I didn't get elected.

All those early defeats were also defining moments. They burned into me that I really wanted to do this. This wasn't a flight of fancy or whimsy. I was all in. The fact that I knew that I was so strongly committed to this was very sustaining when I ultimately got there.



Hon Julia Gillard AC 27th Prime Minister of Australia.
Julia Gillard was sworn in as the 27th Prime Minister of Australia on 24 June 2010 and served in that office until June 2013.

As Prime Minister and in her previous role as Deputy Prime Minister, Ms. Gillard was central to the successful management of Australia’s economy, the 12th biggest in the world, during the Global Financial Crisis and as Australia positioned to seize the benefits of Asia’s rise. Ms. Gillard developed Australia’s guiding policy paper, Australia in the Asian Century.  Ms. Gillard delivered nation-changing policies including reforming Australia education at every level from early childhood to university education, creating an emissions trading scheme, improving the provision and sustainability of health care, aged care and dental care, commencing the nation’s first ever national scheme to care for people with disabilities and restructuring the telecommunications sector as well as advancing a national broadband network. In foreign policy, Ms. Gillard strengthened Australia’s alliance with the United States, secured stronger architecture for the relationship with China, upgraded Australia’s ties with India, and deepened ties with Japan, Indonesia and South Korea. Ms. Gillard has represented Australia at the G20, including winning Australia’s right to host the 2014 meeting, the East Asia Summit, APEC, NATO-ISAF and chaired CHOGM.  Under Ms. Gillard’s leadership, Australia was elected to serve on the United Nations Security Council.

Prime Minister Gillard in 2012 established the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses To Child Sexual Abuse, which issued its landmark report on these crucial societal issues in November 2017. Ms. Gillard is the first woman to ever serve as Australia’s Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister. In October 2012, Ms. Gillard received worldwide attention for her speech in Parliament on the treatment of women in professional and public life. Ms. Gillard is a non-resident Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution in Washington.  In February 2014, Ms. Gillard was appointed Chair of the Board of Directors of the Global Partnership for Education, the only multilateral organization dedicated to expanding access to quality education in developing countries.  Ms. Gillard also serves as Patron of Camfed, the Campaign for Female Education, which tackles poverty and inequality by supporting girls to go to school and succeed, and empowering young women to step up as leaders of change.

In July 2017, Ms. Gillard became Chair of the Board of Directors of Beyond Blue, which is committed to helping Australians understand and manage their mental health. She was recently appointed as the Chair of Wellcome, a global charitable foundation which supports science to solve urgent health challenges.  In April 2018, Ms. Gillard was appointed Inaugural Chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at Kings College, London.  Through research, practice and advocacy, the Institute will address women’s underrepresentation in leadership positions and the way gender negatively impacts the valuation of women leaders.

Ms. Gillard also serves as an Honorary Professor at the University of Adelaide, and is Patron of the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library in Perth, Western Australia.  In recognition of her public service, Ms. Gillard was awarded a Companion in the Order of Australia in January 2017.

Ms. Gillard’s memoir, My Story, was published by Random House in September 2014. The second edition of her book was published in July 2015. Her second book Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons which is co-authored by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was released in 2020.


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