Acquiring and holding power in our society is still harder for many women than for men. What needs to change? In the week that Jacinda Ardern became leader of the Labour Party, Britt Mann sat down with three finalists in this year's Women of Influence awards to talk about the challenges of being female and ambitious in 2017.
Britt: How significant is it that Jacinda has been elected leader of the Labour party? Does it matter that she's a woman or is it just about having the best person for the job?
Deborah Manning: It shouldn't matter, but it does matter. I was born in 1975 – the year of "girls can do anything". I was brought up believing it.
Then, in my 20s, I realised "girls can do anything" doesn't mean "girls can do everything", but I'm still trying to do everything.
Having my son was a game-changer. I was fortunate I had my son when I was 35. I had established myself in my career and I had that professional confidence and sense of self-worth. Despite that, it has almost made me give up, because it has been that hard.
Hearings generally are 10am till 5pm. In Auckland traffic, that's just a nightmare. Why does a hearing have to be a full day, why can't they be two half days? It's very hard to even have that conversation with people. I work in an area of law where people are often traumatised – refugee law. Over the last number of years [I've fought to have one hearing] run over two days, which allows more women to participate.
Deborah Manning is a barrister specialising in refugee and immigration law, and human rights. She was the co-counsel for Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui, and is presently representing Afghan civilians allegedly attacked by the New Zealand Defence Force.
Britt: When you talk about having self-confidence, often traits perceived as positive in a man are perceived negatively when exhibited by a woman. Is that something you've experienced?
Deborah: One hundred per cent. You're constantly having to gauge your demeanour in situations where there are men.
Dr Paula Morris: So you don't look too hard-faced, or bitchy, pushy...
Deborah: Totally. One of my female colleagues always says: "We have to know how to dance." I was thinking about this yesterday: in what ways has being a woman made my job easier, in what ways has it made it harder? I can't think of a single way it's made it easier.
Paula: I have friends who are lawyers and I hear similar stories all the time. They'll say something in a meeting, it'll be ignored, and then a man will say it, and be told it's the best idea in the world.
Deborah: I think parents, especially women, are so exhausted with asking for [the system to be more family-friendly] you just give up asking. I've had agreements from the Chair of the Tribunal and the Deputy Chair that we'll do family-friendly hours. But every single hearing, without exception, I have to remind or correct. You feel like you have to say: "I've got a slight impediment, I know it's annoying, do you mind accommodating me?" Rather than it being like: "Oh, we have forgotten again, we're really sorry."
Paula: I'm sure you're not the only person with children?
Maramena Roderick (Te Arawa, Te Rarawa) is the head of news and current affairs at Māori Television. She worked at the New Zealand Herald and TVNZ as both a foreign correspondent and an award-winning investigative reporter here.
Deborah: Yes but the other lawyers with children, they don't want to ask. Because they feel inadequate, and they say so. So I've been the one spearheading this and the people behind me are grateful. But even though I've managed to basically get this, they're still reluctant to ask for it. I understand that, because I'm reluctant to ask for it.
Britt: It's a bummer that there are people in the same position as you, who are not willing to stand up for the group…
Deborah: Am I disappointed that my colleagues aren't more outspoken and I'm carrying a lot of the burden? If I'm honest, yes. But do I understand [why they're reluctant to speak out]? Yes.
Britt: Often times the way you think you'd act in a situation where you have to stand up for yourself plays out differently in reality. When it actually happens you're just like, it's too much effort. How do we overcome that?
Paula: My nephew's wife moved here from Mexico when she was 19 – she's the kind of person Donald Trump would hate – she's got a first class degree in politics, she did a Masters in public policy. She speaks fluent Spanish and English. Before she finished her Masters she'd been offered a job at MBIE as a policy analyst. I saw her at a politics showcase and I said to my colleague: "Oh that's my nephew's wife, I'm so proud of her. She's been offered a job, she hasn't even finished yet." And he said: "Well, her good looks probably helped." You're so taken aback, you're not expecting it.
All I could say was: "'Cos that's why positions of power in the world are filled with good-looking women?"
[In the documentary My Year With Helen] Helen Clark said you've got to be resilient enough to lose. But you also have to be resilient enough to take s.... You have to know that when someone does something to you, and you say, "Hands off, please", they're maybe going to call you a nasty name. Or think you're humourless. And you have to be resilient enough to take that. You have to be resilient enough for people to call you all the names in the universe...
It makes you really unpopular. And it might mean that your employer thinks you're, you know, mentally disturbed in some way, or just a troublemaker. 'Cos it's always framed afterwards: "Oh, they were just joking, oh you really misinterpreted it." It's not just men who do it, it's women as well, unfortunately. They feel as though there's room for one woman, there's not room for two or three or four, therefore they're busy pulling up the ladder after them and they will be quite derogatory about other women. If you do perceive there's only ever going to be one woman on a board, and you're it, you're going to start viewing other women as threats.
Deborah: Something I've found that I think is a solution, is essentially about being able to have an open discussion between men and women on the team, about power and about the need for men to share power and women to take power. Throughout my career, I have worked with male colleagues – we're a duo – and that has worked really well. Despite all this, how I've managed to be OK is because of the male colleagues I've worked with. We talk about these things and we're consciously aware of them. That's the hope. It's about being able to have that conversation.
Britt: With regards to the "girls can do anything" message you grew up with, do you think young people are still getting those messages, or have we regressed?
Deborah: I've still got friends who talk about "blue jobs" and "pink jobs" in their house. At the beginning of this year, I woke up to an enormous dead rat under my kitchen table. And my first instinct was to get my [male] neighbour. But I said to myself: "Come on, I can deal with this dead rat." And I can show my son how to deal with a dead rat.
Paula: With tongs, I hope.
Deborah: It was a slightly traumatising experience. Anyway. I got a shovel. And I buried that rat.
Paula: I would have burned it, as a warning to other rats.
Deborah: It was interesting because I was socialised to want to get a man to do it.
Paula: People will sometimes say to me: "You know what men are like around the house!" The truth is, my husband does everything. I would live in complete disarray if not for him. And I had a father who did a lot of housework, he cleaned the bathrooms, he did the dishes, he mopped the floors every Saturday. I didn't grow up thinking men didn't do housework.
Maramena joins the conversation.
Britt: Maramena, could you give us a bit of an outline of your career path?
Maramena Roderick: I was the teenage Māori pregnant girl at school; I was a quintessential statistic.
I don't regret having my bubba, I just wish I had been older. I had a great family, but it was really hard. It got to the point where it wasn't a choice any more. I had to [have a career] for me and my baby to get on with it. I didn't want to be that statistic. I went on the benefit and then it was one of the most joyous days when I got my first job at the New Zealand Herald and went: "There you go, I don't need it any more. Thank you for the help."
I'm from the sticks – Taumarunui – and I came up to Auckland, on a cadet wage. It was for about 18 months; you're at the bottom of the barrel. I say to these young journos today: "16K I was on!"
The first Christmas I went out to Manukau. I had no money – I only had $12. My sister had come up to help me [with my daughter]. I went and bought a pack of crayons, a jotter pad and a ball. I went home and I couldn't afford glue so we made glue out of flour and water. We found old magazines which we wrapped up all the presents in. I wrapped up all her little crayons separately so it looked like she had more presents. She would have been about 3.
Then we went and snapped a branch off a tree outside and put it in a bucket, and made – out of the flour glue – paper chains and put that round the tree.
I was just so devastated when I looked at it. I thought: "This is the worst Christmas."
And she came out in the morning and saw it and her eyes went so wide. She came running up to me and wrapped her hands around my neck and she went:
"Oh Mummy, I love you."
I just wept. That's when I made my decision: "I'm not going to put you through this again. We are not going to be here again."
And it kind of went from there. I just stayed focused and kept going.
Britt: Being a reporter isn't the most lucrative job. Was there ever a time where you thought maybe I'll chuck this in and do something that'll make more money?
Maramena: No. I'm really blessed to have landed in a profession that I love, that I'm passionate about. I'm nosy by nature. I love having a licence to ask strangers: "What are you about?" If you'd told me when I was a 15-year-old pregnant girl at Taumarunui High School that I was going to one day travel around the world and ask people and leaders anything I wanted and someone was going to pay me to do it, I'd have never believed you.
I was lucky there was a careers adviser who I went to and said: "I've got to get my life together for me and my girl. Maybe I'll go to Waikato and study business, 'cos I'm not really good at taking orders from anyone..."
The counsellor said: "I think you should be a journalist." I said: "What? Aren't they brainy?"
This was on a Wednesday. He said: "By the way, I've booked you in for an interview on Friday."
I went there – where you go for all your study, all your training, testing – the broadcasting people come in and they test your voice. A lot of the students got great reports. And my one read: "Maramena Roderick will never have a career in broadcasting."
[Gasps around the table.]
Britt: When you got that report back, what went through your mind?
Maramena: "Watch me."
Paula: Another person wouldn't have had the confidence to do that...
Maramena: I was lucky to come from a family that loved me. I think that counts for a lot.
Britt: What would it take for more women to have senior positions in your respective fields?
Maramena: I don't want to see women at the top in my field because they're women. I want them there because they're the best. They're there for what they bring to the job, not for what size their dick is.
I look forward to the day where there are far more women in those positions of decision-making. I get very disappointed, however, when I see women standing on other women to get to where they want to get in front of the male bosses. They perceive there's only so many gaps for women, so they will stand on other women. What I try to instil in my staff is that no one's indispensable, no one's irreplaceable. But what we can do is the very best while we're here and ensure that we leave it in a far better place for the next person.
When women on staff come and say they want to be in my job, I love it. I don't think anyone should be in a job forever – you always need fresh eyes. And I do hope, and I do believe, there'll be another wahine Māori who will come through and will take it to the next level, maybe because of a little bit that I did to open that door and get her there, and I'll celebrate that.
Paula: In writing, women are the readers, women are the ones who buy books. Women are the ones who go to festivals, women are the ones who work in publishing. Unfortunately none of it is highly paid, or highly regarded. I wonder if the fact that literature is something seen as something written by and for women, is one of the reasons why it's not valued as much as sport, say.
It's as though we're still in the 19th century with men complaining there are too many women writing trash. Once there are too many women in the area of cultural production, it somehow diminishes it – it makes it into a craft, versus an art, or into somehow a hobby.
Deborah: In terms of women in the legal profession, first and foremost what I care about is making sure we've got advocates and people who fight for justice. How can we make sure that more women feel able to fight for justice? There needs to be some structural reforms. Not making women have to constantly explain, excuse, request meetings that fit around those school drop-offs and dinner times, that kind of thing.
One of the most significant experiences I have had is being the lawyer for [refugee now NZ citizen] Ahmed Zaoui – joining that case. And I had this moment where I had to make some decisions about the fight to try and get him out of solitary confinement when everybody was saying it wasn't possible. And I realised I knew what my turangawaewae was – my standing place: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Which says that everybody is entitled to dignity, and everybody has the same rights. So I always say to people, "know your standing place." That will give you courage and hope to fight and to never give up.