Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard says women entering leadership roles should still be prepared to face sexism in 2020.
Case in point: the reception Sen. Kamala Harris received in some corners when presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden picked her as his running mate last week.
“It’s caught my eye that one of the first things President Trump has said about Kamala Harris is he’s used the word ‘nasty,'” Gillard said during Tuesday’s TIME100 Talks event, which focused on global leadership.
Trump said Harris was “extraordinarily nasty” to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his Senate confirmation hearings—which became a national debate after he was accused of sexual assault. Trump used the same word to describe Hillary Clinton during a presidential debate in 2016.
“I think he’s already conjuring with these sexist tropes that women who come forward, who are ambitious, and rightly ambitious, who have got the capacity to lead, who have done in the past strong things, are unlikeable,” Gillard said. “He’s basically already wanting people to conclude and they won’t warm to Kamala Harris as the candidate for VP and there’s gender baked into that.”
Tuesday’s TIME100 Talks also featured African Leadership Group Founder and CEO Fred Swaniker, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, actor and U.N. Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador Michelle Yeoh and a performance and special message from Red Velvet – IRENE & SEULGI.
But Gillard, who was the first and only female Prime Minister of Australia from 2010 to 2013, offered some advice for women aspiring to leadership positions on how to confront the sexism they might face.
“You’ll step out into a world where there’s still a disproportionate focus on your appearance, a disproportionate focus on your family structures, where if you fall the wrong side of this strength and empathy tightrope, that people may conclude that you’re really unlikeable, that you’re really prickly, that you’re hard to get along with,” she told TIME contributor Kim Dozier.
“I would say to any women aspiring for leadership be aware these things are going to happen, and war game in advance what your response is going to be. Don’t be blindsided, don’t be caught in the moment.”
The advice comes from Gillard’s experience in office, where she regularly faced sexist attacks, but also from her research for her new book, Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons, which she co-authored with former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. For the book, Gillard and Okonjo-Iweala interviewed several current and former female leaders from across the world and across the political spectrum, including: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Hillary Clinton, former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May.
Gillard also commented on her famous 2012 misogyny speech in the Australian Parliament, during which she called out opposition leader Tony Abbott for sexist attacks. A video of the speech went viral around the world.
“I did get to a stage, having not engaged on issues of sexism…” she said. “I think it did unleash all of the frustration that I’d felt up to that moment.
Asked about the success of female leaders during the pandemic, including Ardern and Germany’s Angela Merkel, Gillard said it’s become clear that certain types of leadership are less effective in fighting a pandemic.
“This is a time in which that absolute strongman, blustering, crash through style of leadership—I’m thinking here of people like President Bolsonaro of Brazil—that style of leaderships hasn’t worked. You might be able to bluff your way through a series of political crises, but you can’t do that with a virus,” says Gillard. “You’ve gotta be precise, you’ve gotta be scientific.”
Gillard said that she hopes that the pandemic changes the conversation around what effective leadership is.
“I do hope that we emerge out of this with a new dialogue around women’s leadership, a new understanding about the benefits of combining strength and empathy in our leaders, and we ask that of all leaders, men and women.”
This article is part of #TIME100Talks: Finding Hope, a special series featuring leaders across different fields encouraging action toward a better world. Want more? Sign up for access to more virtual events, including live conversations with influential newsmakers.
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