Carol Schwartz AM Founding Chair & Amy Mullins Executive Director of Women’s Leadership Institute Australia  / 
Be Courageous

story / Interview / November 22, 2015

Professional background…

AM: I started out working in communications, primarily in advertising and social media. I was writing a blog about politics and promoting that on Twitter, which is where I met Carol. I have always been passionate about women in leadership and gender diversity, so it seems like the two passion areas collided with this role. I came on board to run the Women for Media initiative and am now the Executive Director. I look after all of our activities and have been spearheading some new initiatives with Carol around improving women’s visibility and challenging norms and stereotypes around what a leader looks like.

CS: I started off life as a lawyer and quickly decided that I didn’t want to practice law. I opened a couple of new businesses, did some small property developments with a girlfriend who was an interior designer and then joined a family business in property where I worked for almost two decades. Whilst I was doing that, I became involved with the Property Council. I was Victorian President and then I became National President.

Women for Media initiative…

AM: There are currently over 170 female leaders from the sectors of business, finance, not-for-profit and government involved in the Women for Media database. Members of the initiative are generally CEO’s, Chairs, non executive directors, and people in the C-suite. It’s basically a go-to place for journalists and event organisers to find female leaders for an interview, or a panel. We’re trying to break down the barriers between journalists and female leaders to ensure they’ve got instant access to each other in order to develop strong relationships. Hopefully one day we’ll become redundant because people have created ongoing connections through the database and have been inspired to contact each other on their own initiative.

CS: It’s actually a key issue for us, because it’s all about role modelling. If you open up the Financial Review you wouldn’t be too surprised to think there are no women in corporate Australia. Not only in the property sector but in all aspects of that corporate world. It’s a subliminal reinforcement of stereotypes and as women we are all affected. Interestingly enough, it also affects one’s confidence and courage. One doesn’t put oneself forward if you’re not seeing anyone else do it. There’s too much exceptionalism around the role of women. There may be one or two women who appear constantly, but the other women look at them and say, “Well, they’re the exception,” and the guys look at it and say “Well, they’re the only two women that exist.” There’s this constant subliminal reinforcement around what the roles of women are.

Property Council’s Male Champions of Change…

CS: Culture is difficult to change as we all know. I think the Property Council’s Male Champions of Change has been a fantastic initiative. It’s exposed both Amy and myself to the goodwill and commitment of the men at the top of this industry, to change the status quo. I’ve been incredibly impressed by the initiative and the forcefulness with which the male industry leaders are really approaching this.

AM: We’re excited. Initially it was great to have the discussions about where everyone is starting from and listening and learning on the issue of gender diversity and women in leadership. Now the group has formulated action plans which has got people really enthused and invigorated because they can see that there is movement.  There is a genuine commitment to taking action individually and collectively as well as holding themselves and each other to account.

CS: It’s really interesting to see the cohort actually self regulate around what is acceptable and what isn’t. It’s been terrific. Without a doubt positioning yourself within the action on this is a competitive business advantage. If you have a look at the really bright young women coming out of various courses, why wouldn’t you want to have them working in your organisation? You’re missing out on fifty percent of the talent pool by not recruiting from the pool of women.

AM: I think retention of employees is one of the biggest talent issues and comes down to cultural factors; the company culture needs to be one that values diversity and inclusion. You have to be able to look around and see diversity, not only at your level but higher up. To see that there is actually a career trajectory and that you are likely to be promoted on talent and potential.

On quotas…

CS: Bring them on. We’ve been talking about self-regulation and targets for a long time. I have no doubt that there are very talented women out there who are just not being given the opportunity. My view is that if we brought in quotas as a temporary measure and changed the culture through a paradigm shift so that we immediately placed the women in these roles; we’d adapt. They’d perform just as well as the men do. Women need to stand shoulder to shoulder alongside men in equal numbers. There was some recent research out of Norway that showed if there aren’t quotas, you don’t get that paradigm shift. I’m very interested to see what’s going to happen out of the Male Champions of Change initiatives. My feeling is that if there is no movement and the men see there is no movement, then they’re the ones who are going to be calling for quotas. If they can’t get that change to happen organically then they’re the ones who are going to say, “Let’s bring in quotas as a temporary measure, and let’s see where we are in five years time.”


AM: I’m inspired by people who have a strong set of beliefs and values that are guided by equality of opportunity and those who then go out and take action on it. That’s what I’m driven by and what I aim for in all that I do.

CS: I think that I can take something out of everyone I meet. You can never predict who you’re going to learn from and what insight you’re going to get from a conversation you have. I think that I have multiple influences, constantly. Interestingly enough, for someone of my age, it’s very, very important to stay close to the generation below us and the generation below that. To expose ourselves to the way they’re thinking. We have such entrenched social problems. When I look at people of my generation, who have been around for a while trying to solve these issues, we rack our brains as to how we are going to do it, yet when I talk to somebody in their twenties, they potentially have a whole new way of looking at the issue. An innovative way of approaching it and perhaps not the skepticism, or cynicism, that you invariably develop as you get older.

Advice for young professionals…

AM: Make the most of every opportunity. I’ve never said “no” to something relevant to my ambitions or interests. That’s how I got to where I am now. I was confident and just said, “Yes’, I’d love to!” So don’t let fear get in the way. Who knows what new ideas and directions could eventuate from the opportunities that come your way.

CS: As a follow on to that, my advice would be to be courageous and don’t be modest. If you’re not going to talk about your achievements, then nobody else is going to. I know that some women find that very difficult, but you’ve got to do it. It’s the way we are socialised; it’s not ladylike… you can’t beat your boyfriend at table tennis, boys don’t like to be beaten by girls. It’s ingrained at a young age.

My mother always told me…

AM: …to “always do your best, you can’t expect any more of yourself than that.” It puts things into perspective and re-frames any challenge.

I tell my daughters…

CS: …to buy shares in companies if they want to change the way those companies operate. Go along to the AGM and if you have any questions to ask, you stand up and ask them. Ask them the questions; “Where are the women? Where are the women on the executive team? Where are the women on your board? What is your policy about women in leadership?” That is the only way that change is going to happen. At the end of the day, it’s the exercise of financial power which is going to make corporate Australia stand up and listen.


We met this powerhouse pair at a Management Club dinner at the Lyceum Club a few months ago. Carol was the keynote speaker and had us both enthralled with her passion and powerful voice. She spoke about the amazing work that she was doing with Amy and so we approached the pair for an interview. We finally met at their phenomenal office on Flinders Lane. Both these women have everything so spot on. Their words cannot fail to resonate with women in any profession. Their call for accountability and activity, is so crucial if we are to continue to inspire the next generation of professional women and bring balance to leadership in Australia. We hope that this interview brought you a slice of their brilliance. 

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