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Breaking the Bias

Nicola Roxon at St Kilda Road Campus
Earlier this year in March, we welcomed our wider community back onto our campuses for the first time in 12 months with a celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD), the day that recognises women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements and calls for gender equality.

This year’s theme - #BreakTheBias - calls us to break the bias in our schools, communities and workplaces to create a more inclusive, gender-equal world for ourselves and future generations.

At St Kilda Road Campus, over 250 members of our community - staff, alumni, families, friends and students - relished the opportunity to share breakfast in the Rose Garden before moving to Adamson Hall to hear from keynote speaker The Honourable Nicola Roxon. Starting her career as an industrial lawyer, Nicola went on to become Labor Member for Gellibrand (1998-2013), Minister for Health and Ageing (2007-2011) and Australia’s first female Attorney-General (2011-2013). She is the current Chair of HESTA super fund and VicHealth.

During her time in parliament, Nicola was surrounded by powerful, resilient women including Penny Wong and Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Nicola shared her challenges as the first female cabinet minister with a young child, despite there being strong female representation in Parliament at the time. She recalled when her request for parental leave to attend her daughter’s first day of Prep was denied by the parliamentary whip as not a ‘good enough reason’ to miss parliament. Although a senior male colleague stepped in on her behalf, and her request was eventually granted, it was evident to Nicola at this time that women still had a long way to go. Nicola is renowned and highly respected for her battle with the tobacco industry to introduce the plain packaging of cigarettes. Her strong advocacy produced a successful outcome that has now been adopted in 27 countries worldwide. Nicola’s lifelong commitment to women’s equality has included working on pay equity, sexual harassment and discrimination cases, and encouraging stronger female representation in all walks of life. As Nicola explained, these ongoing struggles cannot be waged or won by women alone, nor on just one day a year. Nicola recognised the importance of men as partners in the quest for gender equality, clearly emphasising the vital role they play in supporting women in raising awareness against bias and taking action by calling out inequality in our world.

Glen Waverley Campus welcomed Professor Margaret Hellard AM to speak at the IWD Breakfast, with close to 100 students, parents and staff gathering in the Coates Pavilion. Professor Hellard is a Deputy Director at the Burnet Institute, Head of Hepatitis Services in the Infectious Diseases Unit at the Alfred Hospital and an Adjunct Professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology at Monash University and University of Melbourne. Professor Hellard spoke broadly about a career in the sciences being an option for all, and the many and varied opportunities available for women with an interest in science.

She talked about current research and treatments for diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis, and her real-world experience having to navigate the HIV/ AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when there was no effective treatment and a great deal of stigma around the disease. She recounted harrowing moments of losing patients during this period. Today, patients have a much more promising outlook, thanks to the commitment of scientists and their pursuit of more effective medications and treatments.

Professor Hellard also spoke about chance and privilege. By chance, we were born into a place and time where war, famine and extreme poverty are not part of our daily lives. Indeed, we were born into a place of privilege, having shelter, food and most importantly, access to education. The strongest message of the morning was to value education, as so many around the world do not have access to this privilege. Her message was clear: be curious and always educate yourself.

Elsternwick Campus was thrilled to welcome Wesley College Principal, Nick Evans and close to 100 parents, staff and students from our close-knit community to breakfast for a long-awaited chance to catch-up and to hear from guest speaker Anna Kaplan, filmmaker and current Elsternwick parent. Anna produces social issue documentary projects, working with award-winning directors to bring powerful stories to the screen. Her credits include the critically acclaimed That Sugar Film, 2040 and the soon-to be-released Regenerate Australia.

Anna’s passion is screen-based storytelling that informs, inspires and activates audiences. She spoke about the power of voice and the impact an individual can have by using their voice to initiate change, no matter how difficult the situation. Her honest reflection about the challenges she faced in developing and finding her own voice resonated strongly with her audience. This was a powerful and timely message, given the College’s strategic priority around student agency. She also spoke about the women who have inspired her throughout the years and the impact they’ve had on her.

Her final message to our students was simple: ‘Make the most of the many, many opportunities that you are so fortunate to have as part of a Wesley College experience’.

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