ABC Board member, author and journalist professor Julianne Schultz reflects on a career forged in the sexist media landscape of the 70s, and tells us why a career after 50 can be the most fulfilling yet.
The breadth and scope of Professor Julianne Schultz’ career to date defies a myriad of societal norms. As a non executive director at the ABC, Schultz is one of the very few women in Australia to hold a Board position, and one of four who does so at the country’s most “attractive” place of work. The ABC was voted the most desirable employer earlier this year by recruiter, Randstad.
It’s an enviable position but by no means her only source of professional fulfillment. Schultz has been honing her media credentials over two decades as a broadcaster, author and policy advisor, beginning as a journalist at The Australian Financial Review.
She founded and edits The Griffith Review, chairs the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS), chairs the Queensland Design Council, is a member of the advisory boards of the Centre for Advanced Journalism and Companion to Australian Media, an ambassador for Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, and a judge of the Miles Franklin and Walkley awards, to name a few.
Schultz’s desire to be a journalist seeded early. Growing up in rural Victoria, her primary school teacher – an import from the big city of Chicago – infused his class with a particular fascination for newspapers.
“We used to cut up the papers and make our own, he taught us about mastheads and editorials, how to write news stories, captions and features,” she remembers. “Teaching a little group of country kids about newspapers was his way of keeping in touch with the world and helping us realise there was a bigger world beyond the paddocks.”
When she spread her media wings in the 1970s it wasn’t long before she realised her sex was perceived as a fault. “The editor of one paper said to me, ‘I don’t know why all you girls want to be journalists. What was wrong with teaching and nursing?’”
Another editor had the audacity to tell her he had no jobs available, unless of course she was pretty. “The sexism was pretty raw,” she says. “Even at the Fin Review the editor said: ‘Women are the new Irish. They will work their guts out, not expect to be paid much… and they can get businessmen to say things they wouldn’t otherwise.”
She got through the jibes by being smart, cool, honest and focused, and finding advocates who would support her. Reaching executive level, she believes, is all about throwing oneself at new challenges and having the confidence to believe you’ll fly.
Men, as a generalisation are better at backing themselves. “More women should be encouraged to make the leap and take on senior management jobs. There is no perfect time – just a matter of taking opportunities when they arise… Push yourself to take it even if you do not think you are perfectly ready.”
The Gen Y attitude to work is, veterans will moan, all about instant success and gratification. Everything has to happen now. For many women in their twenties, the thinking goes that careers must be cemented before children enter the picture and complicate things. But Schultz’s career has had a renaissance since she reached her half century.
“Remember, life continues after 50 and there are a lot of women in their 50s taking on the demanding jobs they couldn’t juggle with young kids, and having very fulfilling careers once their kids have left home or gone to uni,” she observes. “A life has many phases and probably a number of careers. So it doesn’t all have to be done at once.” Schultz has two children in their twenties with her husband, author and government policy advisor, Ian Reinecke.
As technology drives massive media change – particularly the diversification of both content and distribution methods – Schultz believes the value of public broadcasting will only increase. “In all this change and with so many competing outlets there is a really important place for public broadcasting, which regards audiences as citizens as well as consumers.”