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‘You’ve got to have chutzpah: go up and talk to the chair after the meeting’

Michael Visontay
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Published: 30 August 2022

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Business leader Jillian Segal was one of many who spoke bluntly at Sunday’s Social Justice Summit about the challenges for women to be heard in the workplace and beyond.

Prominent business figure and women’s advocate Jillian Segal issued a challenge to Jewish communal bodies to do more to include women in senior leadership positions, the Social Justice Summit heard on Sunday at Sydney's Emanuel Synagogue.

In a conversation on Women in Leadership, Segal noted that bodies such as the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies had never had a female president. “We want to see women everywhere,” Segal said in a conversation with Anna Green, Managing Director and Senior Partner at the Boston Consulting Group.

Segal was frank about her personal views and standards to achieve this outcome. “I will not appear on a panel without a woman; “I won’t appear in photos without a woman in the shot,” said Segal, whose list of corporate roles includes chairing public foundations and authorities, and directorships on the ASX and the University of NSW. She is also currently President of ECAJ.

Their exchange was one in a day of frank, robust discussion and calls to action at the fourth annual Summit, which was titled Leading the change to gender equity in Jewish leadership.

I will not appear on a panel without a woman; I won’t appear in photos without a woman in the shot - JILLIAN SEGAL

The summit featured a keynote address from actor and gender and climate advocate Yael Stone, who gave a powerful keynote address that touched on her public comments in the Geoffrey Rush sexual harassment affair, her rejection of a career in the US and her journey to “do something” back in Australia to bring about a low-carbon future.

“I spoke for two reasons,” Stone said, referring to Geoffrey Rush. “Number one, it was the truth. And number two, I suspected that power would protect power. And I'm sad to say that is exactly how it played out.”

I spoke for two reasons. Number one, it was the truth. And number two, I suspected that power would protect power - YAEL STONE, about Geoffrey Rush

“After the dust had settled, I was relieved to discover that being forced to talk about these ideas perfectly, hadn't killed me.”

Stone said the passing years had given her a broader perspective on what it meant to take action. “A year later we were choking on bushfires. On the south coast [of NSW] I was obsessively checking the sky for flying embers - and desperately seeking some powerful leadership from somewhere anywhere.”

Yael Stone gives her keynote address
Yael Stone gives her keynote address

Earlier in the day, the summit featured rousing presentations from Melbourne community trailblazers, Rebecca Forgasz on her experience as CEO of the Jewish Museum of Australia, Lisa Ezekiel from the National Council of Jewish Women Australia on the Council’s ground-breaking #MakeSpacefor her campaign, and Nomi Kaltmann, who gave insights into how she funded the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JoFA) in Australia.

Forgasz, who was lead researcher in the Gender Equity survey commissioned by the summit, also held a session where she shared findings from the survey, which revealed alarming levels of gender harassment within NSW Jewish community organisations.

Jillian Segal discussed some of the ways she would try to enhance women’s status, inclusion and visibility.

In her role as a deputy chancellor at the University of NSW, Segal said she encouraged women to apply for promotions. In her conversation with Green, she said she used to hold themed lunches for women who worked at the university. “It was important to get junior women to network with senior women.”

Gender diversity and all forms of diversity, needs to be a collective responsibility; It means we need men leading as strongly as we do as women - ANNA GREEN

“That networking is very important for Jewish women today,” she said.

Segal was then asked how she would address the problem of women having a seat at the table but not being listened to; the example was given of a woman coming up with an idea which was greeted with silence, only for a man to voice the same idea later and be acknowledged for doing so.

In short, how do you change the workplace culture so that women are listened to? “The person who chairs the meeting bears a huge responsibility,” Segal told the summit.

“You’ve got to have chutzpah to confront them. Go up to the chair after the meeting and tell them.”

Genevieve Abbey, from the JCA Diversity Committee, addresses a session
Genevieve Abbey, from the JCA Diversity Committee, addresses a session

This elusive problem is part of what has become known as “unconscious bias” in corporate and other workplaces. Anna Green said unconscious bias was now recognised as being so prevalent that senior managers in the corporate world are given training to learn how to recognise and address it.

Segal said the key was to not let it go unremarked. Women need to make the effort to draw attention to it, and the more they do it, no matter how confronting it may feel, the better their workplace culture will become. “Ultimately the workplace culture will override the bias,” she said.

Anna Green said that in the bigger picture: "Gender diversity and all forms of diversity, needs to be a collective responsibility, It means we need men leading as strongly as we do as women. We need men listening to these discussions. making everyone accountable and driving change is very important.

“There is genuine care and a lot of great intentions, but it’s not enough. Very few organisations have the necessary discipline and rigour on their gender programs."


All photos taken by Giselle Haber

About the author

Michael Visontay

Michael Visontay is the Commissioning Editor of TJI. He has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 30 years. Michael is the author of several books, including Who Gave You Permission?, co-authored with child sexual abuse advocate Manny Waks, and Welcome to Wanderland: Western Sydney Wanderers and the Pride of the West.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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