IWD 2019: Balance for better...

Suzanne Brown, Director (Solicitor) and QLS Business Law Accredited Specialist from McKays Solicitors taking part in JSP online campaign #balanceforbetter.  Photo: Coffee and Hops

Suzanne Brown, Director (Solicitor) and QLS Business Law Accredited Specialist from McKays Solicitors taking part in JSP online campaign #balanceforbetter.

Photo: Coffee and Hops

Today’s feature for our #balanceforbetter online campaign is Suzanne Brown, Director (Solicitor) and QLS Business Law Accredited Specialist from McKays Solicitors.

Q1. IWD's theme this year is #balanceforbetter and is calling for a more gendered - balanced world, how do you think we can achieve this? Is it possible? 

I believe we are already achieving it to an extent. For example, the majority of law graduates are now female – which is a huge shift from the tradition of pale, male and stale. Certainly in the professions, I think we are seeing women starting to emerge and in fact in some fields, dominate.


Never before have there been more mothers returning to work earlier, women making the decision not to have children in favour of their career (and that being accepted!), men assuming the parenting role (stay at home dads), women no longer being confined by traditional stereotypes of jobs (go the female engineers!) and there have been major inroads in workplaces becoming more family friendly.


I certainly believe gender equality is possible.  Where I think we are falling short at the moment is women in the top jobs – the executive and CEO roles. Having said that, I personally do not believe in ‘positive discrimination’ in favour of women. I believe that women need to be judged fairly and equally with men, and earn positions on merit, not gender.


I believe that flexibility and mentoring is the key to getting more women in these top jobs. For example, the leadership program that was run by Mackay Regional Council for its emerging female leaders was fantastic.


Given that women have children (its biology!), there are still some obvious challenges which we need to work on. For example, a lot of returning mothers (myself included) often had to leave and travel to their babies throughout the day to feed; or pump in the office and store milk. My firm looked at having a nursery onsite, so parents could check on their babies frequently and were in close proximity for feeding but the childcare laws made this near impossible. 


Technology is making it much easier for women to have flexibility in hours and work remotely. This is a phenomenon that I believe we will see many workplaces embrace a lot more in the future.


Q2. We are heading into an era of movements and activism, calling for a more balance in the world, as a leader in our community is this an important way to have women's voices heard and make changes are reality?  


I believe that if women want to be treated equally – they need to act like equals...not be defined or expect to be favoured or treated differently by gender.


I tell a story frequently about a committee I was on years ago – all men, and I was the only female. I recall in my first meeting, one of the men dropped a swear word. He then stopped, paused with fear and said “sorry Suzanne, I forgot there was now a lady in the room”. I quickly thought about how I would react…and then hit my fist on the table and said “so you *(expletive)* should be”.  They all looked shocked and laughed. From that moment on, I was not the ‘woman’ in the room – I was just part of the group.


I am not a feminist, and I do not think “loud and proud” activism is the answer. I certainly think there should be an ongoing ‘conversation’ about gender equality – but where we really need to focus our attention is on education and mentoring for men and women, such that anyone, regardless of gender, has the same opportunities. 


I believe that there are certain attributes that women have because of their biology and upbringing. For example, as a general observation, a lot of women will be uncomfortable with direct confrontation in a workplace and favour ‘keeping the peace’. This may therefore put those women at a disadvantage in a highly competitive environment. Accordingly, providing mentoring to enable women to feel confident and have the skills to approach these situations is the key. It’s the ‘give a man fish vs teach a man to fish” argument.


Q3. Who are the leading ladies in your life? What makes them strong, brave, resilient and role models? 

My mother has always been an inspiration to me – she is very career driven and hard working. However, my biggest fan and support has actually always been my father. My dad told me from when I was a little girl that I could be anything I wanted to be and to never let anyone “put Suzy in the corner” (like out of Dirty Dancing). My Dad still to this day gives me pep talks – especially if I have to face a challenging situation at work. So ironically, it has been a MAN that has been the most encouraging of my endeavours!


One leading lady I really admire is Tracy Fantin –  a judge of the District Court. I met Tracy when she was a junior barrister – about 9 years ago.  Tracy is one of the most inspiring people I have ever encountered – she is technically brilliant, at the top of her field, oozes sophistication but is such a balanced and grounded person. She has given me so much advice about how to ‘cope’ with being a mother and having a legal career.


I observed what Tracy experienced as she fought her way to the top, and admire how she always conducted herself with absolute class and composure (in spite of sometimes belittling treatment from more senior male barristers) and earned respect through hard work, determination and her legal skills. Becoming a District Court judge is incredibly competitive and so Tracy’s achievement is extraordinary. She is one exceptional individual.


Another example of a truly astonishing woman is Jo Whitehead – the CEO of the Mackay Hospital and Health Service. This is the lady who is responsible for overseeing the operational management of all our local public hospitals. Jo is a quiet achiever – but she is one of the most hard working, competent and commanding individuals I have met. 


Jo has a very challenging and demanding role. She is so compassionate and respectful of everyone yet is strong and brave and always seems calm. She is also a ‘real’ person and is incredibly engaging socially, with a great sense of humour!


The above are just a few of the wonderful women I admire, however I have so many amazing women and men in my life who I look up to for all sorts of reasons – I am truly blessed to have a village of support.


Q4. Why is International Women's Day important for women living and contributing to the Mackay and greater Whitsunday region? 


International Woman’s Day brings into focus, and gives an opportunity to celebrate, some of the amazing and accomplished women in the Mackay Region. It draws out stories of everyday superwomen, who are contributing to the community or charity, to making peoples’ lives better, who have overcome adversity or are succeeding in their chosen pursuits. It is a chance to celebrate how far we have come, and look to the future of what women could achieve.


One important aspect, is the involvement of our emerging female leaders of the future – the school kids. These girls are involved in, and attend, local events and get to experience possibility and hope – of what they could aspire to for the future. This is the truly exciting part…


Q5. What does being a woman mean to you? 

I love being a woman! I love that in this day and age, I can have it all – I can have the career and the family. I do actually personally feel like I have equal opportunity to men. I feel like the power is in my hands – and I make personal choices about how I want to live my life to achieve my goals.


No man can experience childbirth like a woman – that moment of accomplishment and joy when the baby is out and is put on your chest – indescribable. I also loved breastfeeding – such a special bonding time with my babies.


I love the opportunity to be feminine – the shoes, clothes, lingerie, makeup and hair. I genuinely enjoy dressing up and feeling special.


I love coffee and giggles with my girlfriends – we do that like only women can! Having D&Ms with my best friends, and supporting one another is so fulfilling.


Women are literally taking over the world! I feel like in a few years we will be having a conversation about how to re-engage men…and having an International Men’s Day!