The tide of constant change: our take on the International Women's Day Forum

April 8, 2016

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

This week, I was reminded of this quote, which is attributed to Nelson Mandela.

On Tuesday, a few Labsters and I attended the International Women's Day Forum presented by marie claire and MIMCO as part of the Melbourne Fashion Festival. 

The keynote speakers included an impressive array of dynamic women who had achieved excellence in their field: Natasha Stott Despoja, Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls; Cathryn Wills, Managing & Creative Director, MIMCO; Sarah Ferguson, Journalist, ABC News; and Melissa Barbieri, Ex-captain of the Matilda’s Soccer Team, International Soccer Player and Goalkeeper.

It was fascinating to hear these women speak with grace and knowledge about their individual journeys and the gender inequality hurdles they have overcome. 

But truth be told, apart from their personal insights, none of what we heard was ‘new news’. They spoke about the discrepancy between genders – the pay gap, latent misogyny in the workplace, domestic violence perpetuated by men... And we had heard it all before. 

Ironically, I left the forum feeling a little more frustrated with the state of current affairs than before I attended. I found it confounding that we continue to talk about these issues, but remain unable to move the dial or have anything different to say about them. 

But one thing niggled at my mind in the days that followed, and that was how each woman had broken barriers to become the first woman in her field to accomplish extraordinary achievement. (Natasha was the youngest woman to sit in the Parliament of Australia in 1996, and Melissa was the first female to play in the professional men's league.)

Upon deeper rumination, I realised that tackling gender inequality isn't just about bringing the issue to light (i.e. to break 'new news' about a hidden issue). 

It's about the tide of constant change, however glacial that may be, which comes after that revolutionary event.

What is this tidal change? – Breaking psychological barriers

It is a well-documented phenomenon that once humans see something ‘impossible’ being done, a world of possibilities opens up in that arena. 

For example, once Roger Bannister crashed through the 4-minute mile barrier, the rest of the world saw that it was possible, and the previous record that had stood for nine years was broken routinely. 

In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle puts it down to moments of ignition. In the chapter titled “If She Can Do It, Why Can't I”, he gives us a fascinating look into of the phenomenon of 'talent hotbeds', places where a wealth of 'prodigies' has sprung up without prior warning. 

He noticed that these prodigies had striking personal passion. But, he writes:

"It's tempting to chalk up their burning motivation to the unknown depths of the human heart. But this would not be accurate. Because in many cases it is possible to pinpoint the instant that passion ignited."

For South Korea's golfers, it was the afternoon of May 18, 1998, when a twenty-year-old named Se Ri Pak won the McDonald's LPGA Championship and became a national icon. Before her, no South Korean had succeeded in golf. Flash forward to ten years later, and Pak's countrywomen had essentially colonised the LPGA Tour, with forty-five players who collectively won about one-third of the events.

For Russia's tennis players, the moment came that same summer when seventeen-year-old Anna Kournikova reached the Wimbledon semifinals and gained the status of the world's most downloaded athlete. By 2004, Russian women were showing up regularly in major finals; by 2007, they occupied five of the top ten rankings and twelve of the top fifty. “They're like the goddamned Russian Army” said Nick Bollettieri, founder of his eponymous tennis academy in Bradenton, Florida. “They just keep on coming.”

Other hotbeds follow the same pattern: a breakthrough success is followed by a massive bloom of talent. 

This, Coyle writes, is how ignition works. It is a hot, mysterious burst, an awakening. 


Which takes me back to the quote at the start of this article. 

Why is it important that we continue to hear about the feats of women who have gone before, and continue to hear about them in public discourse? 

Because we never know when these women’s breakthrough successes will ignite revolutionary change.

To end, I’ll leave you with a spot produced by Microsoft, which celebrates women inventors, how they’ve changed the world, and are inspiring the next generation. 

I found this quote, "You're surprised because they normally talk about Einstein and Benjamin, but you never hear a girl in conversation" particularly poignant.

Source: ‘International Women’s Day 2016: What are you going to make?’ by Microsoft.

Let's keep the conversation going.