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Time’s Change But Not Fast Enough

Last week we farewelled my partner’s Mum… at the ripe old age of 101!

Sadly, I never got to know her before dementia stole her memory and much of her spark, but Betty clearly was a special woman. As I sat in the chapel listening to her life story, I reflected on how different her life would have been if she had lived in a different era.

Her family shared how she was remarkable for being unremarkable.

She was a good 1950’s wife of a high-level public servant, moving across the country, with each new work opportunity and promotion. She cooked a mean Sunday roast, was known for her practical dressmaking skills (including making my partner’s first surfboard cover) and kept a neat and tidy home for her family.

In contrast, her early adult life was a life of financial independence, work, freedom and fun.

As an 18 year old woman she had moved out of home and lived independently, working in a range of administration type roles. From the stories shared, it was clear she was a feisty, determined and strong woman of her time.

During the war she enlisted in the WAAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Australian Airforce) and rose to the rank of Sargent.

She clearly had spunk and sparkle being engaged to be married no less than SIX times. In amongst her personal treasures, we’ve found small black and white photographs of dashing young men in air force uniforms. I wonder what happened to these men. Sadly, I suspect they did not live long and fulfilling lives given their war time profession.

She finally married at the age of 23 and left the workforce, never to work outside the home ever again.

I wonder what type of career Betty would have had if she had been born into a different era. What type of leader could have she been? How would she have contributed? What profession would she have chosen?

I may be wrong, but I like to believe she could have been destined for a long and significant career.

I personally can’t imagine a life focused purely around home keeping and family and am grateful for the degree of choice and opportunity we have.

At times, I’m frustrated by the slow progress of change when it comes to women’s contribution in the workplace. Then I think about women like Betty, and I’m reminded how far we’ve come in the last 100 years.

As we navigate this post covid world, I believe we are entering a time of huge growth and opportunity for women. Many of the systems, structures and ways of working have broken and we now have a rare opportunity to reshape our working world as we transition to our new normal.

But just like Betty did – seizing a rare opportunity to work in a leadership role during the war, it’s up to each of us to be courageous and seize the opportunity.

If we want the world of work for women to continue to progress – now is the time to lean in and have a say.

This might mean stepping up to lead in a way that’s right for you rather than modelling outdated styles that don’t align with who you are. It might mean taking a stand for what you believe is important or resisting the temptation to revert to old ways of working when there’s an opportunity to build a better way forward.

Change doesn’t come without discomfort or a degree of resistance. It’s rarely easy and almost always requires courage.

Imagine 100 years from now ….

I wonder how we will see leadership, the contribution of women and what the working environment will be like?

Take a moment today to think about how you might be able to contribute to reshaping leadership and our working world.

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