Ita Buttrose recalls some less than sage advice that fabled ad man John Singleton once bestowed on her regarding the promotion of women in the industry. “He told me that the biggest problem for women was that they just weren’t bastards,” Buttrose tells B&T, “they didn’t get anywhere (in their careers) because they were just too honest!”
Buttrose says she still laughs at the misguided advice and still regales Singo’s backhanded compliment during her public speaking commitments.
But for Buttrose – media doyenne, 2013 Australian of the Year and Cold Chisel muse – Singo’s misjudged advice couldn’t be wider of the mark.
“Quite the contrary,” she says, “I think boards, particularly these days, would love to have more honest women in their boardrooms.”
Buttrose also dismisses the idea that for women to succeed in their careers, take the top C-suite jobs or the CEO’s chair, they need play hardball like the blokes.
“Don’t be misled by [a woman’s] nurturing nature, we’re good nurturers, but women can be aggressive when they need to be,” she said.
“But boardrooms aren’t naturally adversarial places. They’re committed people, who want the best for the company, the employees and the shareholders; so why wouldn’t women thrive in them?
“That’s why I’d like to see more female CEOs across the board because that’s where you can introduce real change when you are the CEO, because you make the rules then,” Buttrose says.
At B&T, we’re also trying to affect change – particularly in our industry – with our annual Women in Media awards.
Come August, these awards will recognise the achievements of the many inspirational women in media, and celebrate the promotion of women into more senior roles.
Buttrose says she’d also like to see women fight harder to nab senior roles, adding, “You have to want it.”
She says: “You can play the gender card as much as they like, but if you want to get to the boardroom, women have to want to get there.
“And women need to arm themselves with the skills to get there. You may need to do a company director’s course or a business management course along the way, but you have to say ‘I want to be in that boardroom’.
“Nothing is handed to you on a plate. Just because you’re a women and you’re talented… and it’s the same for men, too. You have to say ‘I want to be there’,” she says.
Another problem Buttrose believes is that women simply don’t push themselves forward when leadership roles come up, something their male colleagues are particularly astute at. “I encourage women to do that, to emulate men in that respect, it’s a terrific trait to have,” she adds.
“I think any good boss soon works out where the talent lies and it’s the good boss that can say to that person you’re really good at what you do, you can do this, I believe in you. You mentor them in a way. It’s not a fault, it’s just the way women are and if you employ women, you need to know that about them,” she says.
And Buttrose’s advice to young 20-something women finding their way in the media landscape? “Firstly, don’t let people intimidate you. They’ve got the problem not you. You have to believe in yourself, you have to believe in your talent and sometimes you have to rock the boat a bit, take a risk, be innovative, think outside of the square, or, if you’ve got a good idea, present it and make sure no one knocks it off and let people see what you can do.
“Don’t hide your talent… a boss likes staff with ideas, who tells them what they are doing. A good boss admires someone who has a good idea and is prepared to think creatively. I think Australia is so conservative these days, we need all the innovation we can get at the moment, we need creative thinkers, especially female ones,” she says.