Sex Discrimination Commissioner
Born in: Sydney
Friends: Anne Summers | Carol Schwartz | June Oscar
Home Town: Sydney
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Liz Broderick wants to make peace in the war of the sexes and enlist a new army in the fight for change: men.
Taking the gender battle to the other sex -- gently and persuasively -- has been her most revolutionary power play yet, and the early signs are that it's working.
"I am convinced that one day in the future when we look back, Liz will be seen as the person who has had the biggest impact on gender equality in Australia to date," Deloitte Australia CEO Giam Swiegers tells The Power Index.
In 2011 she signed up nine powerful male chairmen and CEOs, including Swiegers, Telstra's David Thodey and Qantas' Alan Joyce, to Male Champions of Change (MCC), a charter for supporting diversity and women in leadership positions.
"She's focused, determined and articulate about what she wants to achieve," says Origin Energy chairman Kevin McCann, and one of the now 18 MCC signatories.
And Broderick can take at least some credit for the 600% increase in board positions opening up to women between 2009 and 2010. The fact that such a jump is possible shows how incredibly few there were when she started.
Broderick is approachable and open -- even if you attack her thinking on gender equality. She has a genuine interest in talking to strangers and is a prolific maker of friends.
She also lives what she preaches, especially on changing how we think about work in order to better balance caring responsibilities. She sends her daughter on a lunch break as The Power Index arrives for our interview; the 14 year-old is using her school holidays to work as her mother's personal office assistant.
"I take her down to parliament with me, we go and see ministers and I say, 'I hope you don't mind but my 14 year old will be taking my notes'. What can they say? 'We'll be seeing the other Sex Discrimination Commissioner?'"
A key part of her strategy is to get men to do this too: to take similar responsibility for their children while working.
You wouldn't know it from the state of her office -- her desk's covered in pieces of paper, empty coffee cups and books (she's head deep working on her review into the Australian Defence Force Academy) -- but Broderick's an obsessive planner. In her early thirties she penned a 20-year life outline detailing how she would help Australian women access better opportunities for work.
Broderick had just settled into a career as a lawyer at Blake Dawson Waldron, after an upbringing as a doctor's daughter in which anything seemed possible, when she discovered how unfair the workplace can be for women and mothers.
Having a first child, Broderick tells The Power Index, is the standard point that women develop "late-onset feminism".
Broderick recognised the need to change the way we work so that it fits in better with children and home life, rather than have women and children constantly making the sacrifices. She became the first part-time partner at Blake Dawson. Then, when three women in her team fell pregnant at once, she hired a secretary who had worked as a nanny for years, who could look after their kids whenever childcare arrangements fell through.
By the time she left Blakes in 2007, 10 per cent of the partners were part-time and 20 per cent of employees were working flexibly. Some, though not many, were men.
Broderick's twenty-year plan received a few more "to do items" following her "listening tour" across the country when she first became Commissioner, but one of her biggest tasks was to get men to engage in the workplace equality debate.
It's men who make the rules around work, she came to realise, and men who will ultimately be responsible for rewriting them. "I always thought it was women who will make change," she tells The Power Index. "But are we really trying to get a better work roster for a woman on the factory floor by asking her to put up her hand and say, 'I've got to pick my child up from school?'"
Women agitating from the sidelines will no longer cut it, she says. "We've done that and we've probably gone as far as we can with that as a strategy."
Not all feminists agree. When The Power Index put this to a Sydney-based academic in the field, she was sceptical about having to rely on the opposite sex. Men must play a part, she told us, but they're born with certain privileges that can't be ignored, so women still need to take the lead on gender equality.
Others argue that by spending too much time in the boardroom, trying to persuade powerful male CEOs to join the fight, Broderick is neglecting other more pressing battles.
It's an argument she has heard before, and she answers it by explaining that gender inequality issues are connected: as long as women are excluded from economic power and decision making, all women will be marginalized.
And anyway, there's plenty more that can be done in the boardroom to help women at home, says Broderick. Last month she called for business leaders to recognize domestic violence as a business challenge.
Feminist Anne Summers credits Broderick with treating all gender discrimination issues with an equal sense of urgency, and says the Commissioner is tackling barriers to equality for all women, particularly Indigenous women, and women enduring various forms of violence.
Indeed, Broderick threw her support behind the Australian Services Union's successful bid for better remuneration. She's also taken a number of women from the Indigenous town of Fitzroy Crossing, who sought to overcome alcohol-related domestic violence, to the United Nations to share their story.
Catherine Smith, an advocate for domestic abuse victims, demonstrated just how much support Liz has from activists in this area with her reaction to a text message from Broderick captured recently on ABC's Australian Story (Smith, who suffered domestic abuse herself, broke down outside a Sydney court room upon reading Broderick's words of encouragement).
So does this well-liked, well-respected, and thoroughly reasonable woman believe she's got the clout to make a difference?
"I'm not powerful in my own right. I'm just an accessible woman. But hopefully through me, people can have access to others who can affect change."