Property Australia

Lessons in leadership with Julia Gillard AC


Former prime minister Julia Gillard AC urges property leaders to see mental health, diversity and inclusion as “core business”, as she heads to Hamilton Island for The Property Congress in September.

Under Gillard’s tenacious leadership, Australia weathered the global financial crisis, forged new relationships in Asia, and pushed through important health, disability care, education and sustainability reforms. Her now-famous misogyny speech is regularly referenced by women grappling with the realities of sexism in the workplace.

Australia’s first and only female prime minister says she is “incredibly proud” of her government’s reforms to education, National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse. “I think all three have changed the nation,” she says.

Since leaving the Lodge in 2013, Gillard’s work has continued to add value to her “big themes and passions in politics”, including education, women’s leadership and mental health. She is also involved in a range of commercial activities and is a director of boutique property investment and finance house CVS Lane.


Boosting the bottom line

“The hard-headed numbers are telling us that we need to act on mental health, gender diversity and inclusivity,” Gillard says.

The daughter of a psychiatric nurse, Gillard is the chair of Beyond Blue, and points to a PwC study that calculated mental health conditions to cost Australian workplaces at just under $11 billion a year in lost productivity.

The same PwC study found that for every $1 invested in effective workplace mental health solutions, there’s an average return on investment of $2.30.

While she says we’ve made “huge strides forward in bringing mental health out of the shadows and into the mainstream of conversation”, there is “still more to do to move our national community beyond awareness raising to behaviour change and service innovation”.

Gillard also chairs the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at Kings College London, which is investigating effective change strategies for gender diversity.

Julia Gillard-31“Diversity and inclusion in the workplace also make good business sense, especially when it comes to attracting and retaining talent,” Gillard says.

A Deloitte Australia survey found employees were twice as likely to feel engaged when their workplace was more diverse. They were also twice as likely to stay with their employer.

Deloitte also found that if just 10 per cent more employees felt included, a company could increase attendance by almost one day per year per employee.

“Certainly, addressing these issues may require leaders to find new ways of working. But we cannot forget that these issues ultimately are about the bottom line, national productivity and business profit. They should not be viewed as feel good side lines, but core business,” she says.


Strategies to shift the dial on diversity

How can business leaders shift the dial on gender diversity?

The answer to this question “could easily fill a book,” Gillard says, but says the first step is “to lead from the top”.

“Targets need to be set, progress needs to be measured and leaders need to be held accountable for KPIs on gender diversity. Reward and remuneration structures should reflect performance on gender diversity, which has to be viewed as core business, not as boutique.”

All employees must take advantage of flexible workplace policies to ensure it is mainstreamed.

“The research is clear that if family friendly flexibilities are only used by women, then they pay a career penalty. If such flexibilities are used by both men and women, then it becomes business as usual and no one’s work progression is prejudiced.”

Gillard would also like everyone to learn about unconscious bias, or those “whispers in our head that mean we more easily imagine men as leaders”. 

“Recruitment, retention and promotion structures all need to be reviewed and reformed, so they are genuinely fair to women.” This requires a “deep dig” to uncover “embedded and often gendered assumptions”.


A pathway towards prosperity

Political and business leaders are all navigating a brave new world, and Australia is not alone in “finding it hard to cope with modern challenges,” Gillard says. The era of instant information, shifting geo-politics and existential threats like climate change are just some of the “big picture” issues being played out in politics and business.

While Australia should be “rightly proud” of holding the global title as the nation with the longest period of uninterrupted economic growth, “not every Australian has benefited and many feel alienated”, she says. 

“We need to find new ways of including people in economic prosperity and the life of the nation.”

This is undoubtedly a clarion call for an industry which shapes the places where people live and learn, work and play.

Looking back, what advice would she give to Julia Gillard the politician?

“My perspective is you can’t go back in time. You can only go forward and that’s what I am enjoying doing.”

The Hon Julia Gillard AC will be speaking at The Property Congress at Hamilton Island from 11-13 September 2019. Registrations are now sold out. However, spaces are still available for the extreme networking package, providing access to 750-plus delegates at the three main networking parties: Welcome Luau, Woodstock Festival and Bottomless Brunch. Register today.