A woman's place is in the House. And the Senate.

by Andrea Leong

The Science Party NSW recognises the lack of diversity in public life, and encourages members of all backgrounds to become active in the party. Find our Equal Opportunity Statement here.


I was in two minds about attending the Women in the House conference last Friday. It looked great (and turned out to be so) but the tickets were $200 each.

Many amazing community organisers and representatives can't merely take a day off and shell out to network with women in politics. A ticket price that skewed the demographic seemed counter to the aim of increasing diversity in politics.

In the end I decided to go, and to take and share as many notes as I could (I tweeted throughout the day; thread here). I editorialise below.


The focus of the event was the underrepresentation of women in Australian politics: 29% in the House of Representatives and 39% in the Senate (32% in total) after the 2016 election.

Women's choices are not made in a vacuum

A common explanation from those content with gender disparity is: "Women's choices." This answer shows a lack of curiosity. Why does gender affect choices? Could it be that gender affects experiences?

A senior journo affirmed that women in politics are judged harshly, and that individual women's failings are used to insinuate that women are generally unsuitable for high-powered roles.

And what of the choices made on behalf of women? Major-party female candidates spoke of their experience of proving their commitment and competence, only to be pre-selected in unwinnable seats (a long-standing and international phenomenon termed the Glass Cliff). This habit might explain why women are more underrepresented among elected members in the LNP than in the ALP, which has a gender parity target.

The solution? Put up with poor treatment?

Big themes of the day were resilience and confidence.

Powering through the extra barriers you face as a result of your demographic in our supposed meritocracy is easier said than done. I feel that I fly under a few radars (sorry not sorry for the combative metaphor) and am therefore emboldened to push hard against tradition. I found the 'just ignore sexism' message a bit uninspiring, though.

It was interesting to hear a theory of professional success that goes some way to explaining gender disparity. In short, any skill falls into one of four quadrants, on a competent-incompetent/known-unknown grid.

  Known Unknown
Competence Known competence: Ambitious, conscientious women work to be highly competent. In general, competence (regardless of gender) is rewarded up until mid-career. Unknown competence: Women are assumed to have innate interpersonal skills. Sell these skills just like technical skills; don't let anyone get away with thinking you didn't work to cultivate them.
Incompetence Known incompetence: We know about traditional networking and professional development, and feel guilty for not doing enough of it. Make the time for these things, but know they are not sufficient for career progression to the highest levels. Unknown incompetence: Taking the next step often requires strategising, self-promotion and negotiation. Depending on interpretation, a woman is either less likely to ask for a raise than a man in the same position, or as likely to ask but less likely to get the raise. Back yourself.

The Confidence Gap is well-researched now. If you're a woman who doubts her competence despite having a sound background, know that the truth is most likely that you got this. It's science!

Of course, this approach doesn't excuse and won't magically end sexism. But while it still happens, forewarned is forearmed.

Don't wait

It was fantastic to hear from women who didn't initially consider entering politics, but felt the call in the middle of a successful career, when they had young children, and went for it. Some of the councillors especially struck me as phenomenally energetic in their drive to improve their communities.

That said, to succeed, you need at least a few people around you who will support you all the way, while letting you know where you can improve.

And if you throw in your lot with a party, large or small, you do need to face that party's candidate preselection process. But don't wait for power brokers to ask you to contest the preselection.

Given the Science Party's size at this point in time, we don't turn away competent candidates due to competition. If your values align with the party's and you're passionate about making change, get in touch!

The minor party trade-off

Fiona Patten shared her experience as an 'independent' candidate. While technically a Reason (formerly Sex Party) Victorian MLC, Patten is the entirety of her party caucus. She has to be across every issue tabled, but has tremendous freedom. 

Unsurprisingly, though, fundraising and mentorship are challenges when you lack the vertical connections that your major party colleagues have access to.

Family life

Politics can be lonely and demanding. Cr Colin Chung (City of Sydney) noted that men more often have the luxury of having a family maintained for them throughout their career in politics, without being judged on their parenting. The home is still seen as a woman's sphere, regardless of the professional lives of a hetero couple (Tim Hammond chipped away at that perception by citing family life as his reason for resigning as the member for Perth this year).

On a personal level, I feel very lucky to have met my partner. But I hope I never describe myself as lucky to have his strong support for my political ambitions. Given that we met through the Science Party, it would be exceptionally weird if he didn't support my 2016 campaign for Kingsford Smith and my current foray into NSW state politics.

What it means to win

Labor candidate Amanda Keeling takes seriously her responsibility to bring women's issues to the fore. Eva Cox was in attendance and grilled some NSW Labor MPs (one with two small children in tow) about Labor's lack of a coherent and accessible childcare policy!

Keeling also reminded us that once the votes have been counted, you deserve to be judged on all relevant metrics. Your advocacy doesn't suddenly count for nothing if you don't win the most votes on polling day.

Finally, some words of wisdom from local and state candidate Aisha Amjad, and Colin Chung: When campaigning gets tough, take heart in the fact that people are looking for energetic change, and will respect authenticity even if they disagree. On the campaign trail, there is no substitute for personal connection. Be generous with your time, in your community and across party lines.


If all of these observations have inspired you rather than put you off, I would be thrilled to hear from you. We need passionate and principled candidates at the local council, state and federal levels, and industrious campaign managers to get the message out!


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