AFL 1, Parliament 0

Originally published on

The announcement by Senator Nova Peris of her retirement from Parliament after serving just one term – three short years – should be greeted with universal sadness and regret.

Nova Peris, photo via SBSNova Peris, photo via SBS

An outstanding candidate.  A high achiever in her own right as an Olympic Gold Medalist and an OAM,  Peris’s entrance into parliament was not through the traditional pathway of service to the party machinery, or through service as an advisor.  She entered as a ‘captain’s pick’ – unprepared and without training.  Entirely the opposite to her career as an elite athlete.  However, once elected, Peris committed herself to the tough and grueling task of being a people’s representative, honestly, in good faith and with unwavering commitment, as so many do, promising, in her first speech, to ‘work hard and make a real difference’.

Peris was the first Indigenous woman to become a senator in our Commonwealth Parliament, a feat which took 112 years.  But once getting there, Peris was confronted with the challenges of a workplace unlike all others.

Unfortunately, we know all too well that her story is not unusual.  As an organisation that was formed specifically to support women such as Peris, Women for Election Australia (WFEA)  interviewed current and former female MP’s, premiers and  ‘would-be’ candidates. We wanted to better understand the barriers to women’s participation as elected representatives and to tailor our training programs to meet their unique needs.

The subsequent report “Future Proofing Australia: Gender Diversity in Politics. June 2015”, revealed that women found both the reality and the idea of a political career challenging in many ways.  Their salary was often cut and their career progression stalled.  The process of candidate selection was personally tough and alienating.  The overall political culture was male-dominated and often abusive. The long hours, and the impact on childcare and family responsibilities of being away from home for extended periods of time was unappealing.  And finally, the values conflicts and compromises needed in order to be successful.

Back to Peris.  Her experiences replicated these findings. While she, as other MP’s, had to withstand the time away from family, the long and arduous hours, the heat of debate, she, as an Indigenous woman,  faced additional personal abuse. Systemic and institutionalised racism and sexism seem, regrettably, to come so easily to some sections of our media and community.

Peris decided to walk. No one blames her, but the question must be asked – what type of workplace support exists for novice parliamentarians as they make their way, as they learn to respond to public policy questions, to political challenges, to media intrusion, and to the general challenges of public life.  And importantly, how to manage the cruel and negative public backlash that arises when someone like Peris challenges the status quo.

Equal representation is critical to changing Peris’ regrettable and unfortunate decision.  It’s long overdue but sadly, the numbers are unlikely to change anytime soon.  In the meantime, until there is adequate support for women entering our Commonwealth Parliament – surely one of our highest honours – we do ourselves a collective disservice if ongoing support for women, and for Indigenous women in particular, is simply not made available.

WFEA congratulates the AFL for its ability to attract a truly remarkable Australian into a critical area of policy concern.  Let’s hope they support her appropriately.

And let’s hope we don’t get this wrong if the next Indigenous candidate, Linda Burney succeeds in her bid to enter the Federal parliament.

Originally published on

The year is 2015

“I have been reflecting on the universal applause of the doubling of the number of women in our federal parliament recently.  This came, of course, with the elevation of Malcolm Turnbull to the Prime Ministership.  And while I think that any advancement in the number of women holding the most senior positions in our public offices is truly worthy of celebration (given it seems do damned hard to get there), is it really worth celebrating without just a little deeper reflection?

There are now four women in the Cabinet – yes, just four.  Doubling seems a significant rise, but doubling saw the number increase from just two to four.  Two was itself was a recent doubling from one, where our Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop had the unenviable task of (possibly) representing the aspirations of women everywhere.  We were told at the time that there were good and talented women ‘knocking on cabinet’s door’ to which the obvious retort must surely have been then OPEN IT! It seems that the door has been opened just ajar; just sufficiently enough to think there is hope for some future change.  But as our representation remains below 30 percent, urgent action is required not only to attract and retain women in Parliament, but in Cabinet.

As the Canadian Prime Minister stated upon appointing an equal number of women and men in his ministry he simply stated that it made sense because ‘it’s 2015’.  Hooray!  The suffragettes, who were arguing for equal rights and female emancipation at the beginning of the century before last, must surely be rolling in their graves, thinking that their struggles would have seen these battles well and truly won.

Sadly, it seems not, and much work remains to be done.  Women for Election Australia recently addressed two important women leadership conferences – one involving members of parliament and the aspiring, the other a group of senior and experienced women from the public and business sectors.   MPs and business women alike continue to express an ongoing frustration that there are too few women present in the upper echelons of decision-making – in cabinets and in boardrooms so necessary to bring about the social and structural change required to support real equality.

Depending on political affiliation (and Women for Election is not partisan), the amazing women we met differ slightly in their views, but there definitely a growing consensus that quotas are the only real way to advance this overdue outcome.  It matters in equity terms but importantly is also matters in economic terms.  Involving women in decision-making is a proven way to improve performance.  Regulation is often used as a ‘blunt instrument’ to change behaviour.  We believe it’s time not only to think about introducing quotas in our boardrooms, but for our elected representatives, too.  It’s time.  The year is 2015”

Sharing our research at WFE in Ireland

I am very excited to be sharing our Australian research at WFE in Ireland in September.

Suzanne Collins gives a compelling case for gender equality – Click here to read the article

WFEA at the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Conference

The Honourable Gladys Berejiklian and The Honourable Linda Burney with board members Jenni Whelan, Jenny Morris (chairman) and Joanne Yates at the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Conference – bipartisan agreement that we need more women in politics.

Click here to find out more about Women for Election Australia
Visit the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Australia Website


Orijen at Upcoming Government Conference

Orijen Founder and CEO Jenny Morris will be speaking at next week’s 2015 Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Conference, in her role as President of Women for Election Australia (WFEA).

Speaking with fellow WFEA Director Jennifer Whelan, Jenny will be presenting a morning session on the first day of the conference, titled “Challenges and Opportunities – The Case for Change“.

WFEA has identified that inequality in gender representation in politics is a global issue. Less than 10% of countries worldwide have a female head of state and fewer than 30 countries’ parliaments are comprised of 30% or more of women.

WFEA are aiming to improve these statistics in Australia, through the provision of non-partisan, issue-neutral leadership programs and support for women aspiring to enter public life or women already holding elected and appointed office in Australia.

Orijen at ICT Leadership Summit

We’re pleased to announce that our CEO Jenny Morris will be presenting a session at the Women in ICT Leadership Summit 2015.

Titled “Understanding and overcoming women’s unconscious bias and barriers to progress”, Jenny will be presenting a custom session to executives and managers in a range of roles across the business sector.

Women’s own unconscious bias is often the ‘elephant in the room’ when discussing the barriers to women’s career aspirations. This bias can negatively impact very capable women’s access to and acquisition of senior level roles, regardless of the interventions being taken by organisations to improve gender diversity or leadership capability. In this session, Jennifer will discuss unconscious bias, highlighting how it is a barrier to women attaining senior level leadership roles. Explore:

  • What are women’s conscious and unconscious competencies and incompetencies?
  • How women can succeed in senior roles while maintaining their personal integrity and authenticity
  • The importance of changing thinking in order to change behaviour

Find out more about the summit and how to register here:

Female Board Directors Create Positive Financial Returns

US-based researchers have found that the presence of women on boards is directly linked to high financial performance.

Dr Kris Byron from Syracuse University and Dr Corinne Post from Lehigh University have published the results of their recent research into female board presentation and its effect on financial performance in the Academy of Management Journal. The paper is titled “Women on Boards and Firm Financial Performance: A Meta-Analysis” and can be found online here.

A landscape study, the researchers aggregated results from 140 existing studies examining the relationship between financial performance and female board representation.

They found a strong correlation between the number of women on a board of directors, and positive accounting returns for the company. The results show that a larger number of females on boards results in directors that make stronger efforts to monitor company performance and strategy.

The results of this research demonstrate the strong tangible benefits of developing strong female leaders to take on executive positions across all Australian companies.

Orijen can help to develop the female talent in your organisation, and increase financial returns, through specialised training and mentoring programs.

Find out more about our Executive Women’s Business mentoring program, customised training programs, or contact us with your specific needs for a tailored option.

Supporting high potential women leaders in operations

For eight months in 2014, starting in February, Orijen led a collaborative program with Diversity Partners (read latest newsletter) and NAWO, the National Association of Women in Operations, to deliver a Transition to Executive Leadership program for high potential female leaders, with groups in both Sydney and Melbourne.

NAWO helps organisations share positive practices, gives women working in operations practical tools and mentoring to develop and enrich their careers, and influences the diversity agenda at higher levels to help ensure a robust pipeline of female talent for leadership positions in operations.

Jenny Morris, assisted by Glenda May, designed and led the program, bringing participants together every month in a facilitated coaching circle to address strategic decision-making and high-level business management skills, as well as negotiation, personal presence and unconscious bias in the workplace. The modules focused on:

  1. Authentic leadership – understanding different leadership styles and recognising your own strengths and abilities
  2. Negotiation and influencing skills – strategies to persuade, influence and communicate more effectively, manage conflict constructively and build networks
  3. Building the total business picture – a classroom simulation where each participant was the CEO of a company, from startup through 25 years of operation, and needed to make (and assess the effectiveness of) major strategic and tactical business decisions
  4. Career management – reflecting on personal visions, planning, goal setting, finding mentors and coaches, work/life balance and managing your personal brand.

Within each session, the group shared feedback on what worked well and less well, and resolved issues and challenges coming out of the module.

At the end of the program women identified real, personal benefits from their experience in the circle. Comments included:

  • “I wanted to, and did, engage with other women”
  • “I have greater self-awareness and value my reputation more”
  • “I know now that negotiating is not a dirty word – I can play in that field and live by my values”
  • “I have more confidence that I deserve to be in my role, and feel more freedom to take risks”
  • “I learned useful techniques and tools that I have shared with my team”
  • “I know that I need to take responsibility for my career and my brand”
  • “It was great to share good days and horrendous days with the group”
  • “I see how important it is to slow down and take time to reflect”
  • “The program challenged my beliefs and made me see things differently”
  • “I feel reassured, it’s okay not to know everything and okay to have emotions”
  • “I learned not to always wait, but to be brave and have a go”
  • “It was enlightening, how many types of personalities can be effective leaders”
  • “Senior leadership doesn’t have to come at a cost, I’ve seen women with great balance”
  • “The major change for me was learning to delegate, let go control, and spend more of my time thinking”
  • “Being in the group helps so much, to know I’m not on my own and many of my issues and concerns are common”
  • “You need to be genuine and true to yourself”
  • “I learned from the group the courage to make hard decisions”
  • “I thought I was a good leader, but this has helped me approach my reports differently and our relationship is much better”
  • “I need to keep practicing to make it real”.

Thanks and congratulations to everyone who participated, everyone at NAWO and to Diversity Partners.

Announcement: New Consultant, Trainer and Facilitator

jenniwhelanWe are delighted to announce that Jenni Whelan has joined the Orijen Group as a senior consultant, trainer and facilitator.

Jenni is a lawyer, lecturer, positive workplace consultant and mediator. Jenni has been a human rights and anti-discrimination lawyer in both private practice and as a government lawyer at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

As Acting Director of the Legal Section at the Australian Human Rights Commission, Jenni oversaw the preparation and conduct of litigation in discrimination and human rights matters and acted as Counsel Assisting in the Inquiry into Sexual Harassment and Sex Discrimination at the Australian Defence Force Academy from April to August 2011. She also engaged in International capacity building work including liaising with the Commission on Gender Equality, Johannesburg, in relation to running public interest litigation.

Jenni’s work as a consultant has included appointment as an expert on the Rights of the Child by the Australian Defence Force (Cadets), providing advice to Government, Non-Government Organisations and Corporations regarding the implementation of Australia’s human rights and non-discrimination obligations, advising employers in relation to implementing positive and non-discriminatory work practices and operationalising gender mainstreaming practices.

In 2013, Jenni received a Quentin Bryce Doctoral Scholarship from UTS. Her PhD explores the realisation of the right to equality and non- discrimination in education.

We look forward to working with Jenni in the years to come, as she shares her many years of expertise with the Orijen Group and our many mentoring program participants.

Orijen Group CEO awarded as a Woman Of Influence

Jennifer Morris, CEO of The Orijen Group, has been announced as a winner in The Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence Awards for 2014.


Jennifer has been recognised in the Diversity category for her contribution and dedication to promoting opportunities for women to progress into executive positions in their careers. She says:

“I am honoured to be recognised in the Westpac/AFR 2014 100 Women of Influence Awards. This achievement would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of all of my clients, who have trusted me to take them on a journey which was both challenging and rewarding, and my colleagues who have openly shared their knowledge and wisdom with me.”

Now in its third year, the 100 Women of Influence Awards celebrate outstanding women from a wide variety of sectors across Australia. Entrants into the awards were assessed by a panel of esteemed judges and have been recognised based on their outstanding ability to demonstrate vision, leadership, innovation and action in and beyond their fields.

Gail Kelly, Westpac Group Chief Executive Officer said, “The breadth and calibre of our 100 Women of Influence for 2014 is remarkable. It is such a privilege to be able to recognise and celebrate the outstanding contributions these women are making to Australia. The 2014 winners will join the now 300 strong, prestigious alumni of these awards. We are blessed to have such great numbers of influential women doing incredible things in many industries and organisations right across Australia.”

Fairfax Media CEO Greg Hywood said: “This year’s 100 Women of Influence join a growing movement that is changing our society for the better in a myriad of ways. Thanks and congratulations to everyone for the contribution they are making.”