Why women need champions like Ita

Originally Published: FEBRUARY 14,2013

Meeting Ita Buttrose for the first time was, I have to admit, pretty nerve wracking. For any woman who went into the business of media or journalism, Ita was the pinnacle of success.

When we did meet over tea I found Ita warm, engaging, full of energy and absolutely passionate about a variety of issues.  What I was not prepared for was the intensity of her remarkable (or marvellous) green eyes , which I have to say, must have put a few people in their place in her time in the fast paced world of magazines.

What I really connected with Ita on, was her passion around why quotas are needed for the number of women on boards in Australia. While some people say board positions should be on merit alone, which is absolutely correct, Ita points out she was on the Consolidated Press board in 1974, and the only woman on the News Ltd Board when she joined – and today, over 20 years later, only 14% of directors of the top 200 ASX listed companies are women.

Ita has had more than a 40 year journey in corporate Australia at the top – and what she made clear was; nothing has changed. Whilst attitudes to working women and mothers in the workforce have changed considerably, the attitude to equal gender representation on boards has not changed one bit in 40 years!

If we can’t make it happen of its own accord, then Ita’s view is that the legal system may have to help the process. I have to say, I agree.

There is an enormous number of extremely capable women in Australia who have a wealth of knowledge and experience to contribute to the governance and bottom line of corporate Australia. It is people like Ita, with experience, profile and perspective that can help move this issue forward.

I am certainly grateful that there are women out there like Ita. Her becoming Australian of the Year is a huge indication of the esteem and respect our nation holds her in. I believe that her voice, joined with many others, can change the Boardrooms of corporate Australia.

Ita is a pioneer and role model for all businesswomen; for over 50 years she has never been shy about addressing controversial issues. That’s what makes Ita a champion.