Fabled Businesswoman & Activist Wendy McCarthy Leads Calls For Action At Forbes Women’s Summit

Fabled Businesswoman & Activist Wendy McCarthy Leads Calls For Action At Forbes Women’s Summit

Yesterday marked six months to the day that Forbes magazine launched in Australia. 

The visionary behind the expansion of the 105-year-old publication to our shores was first-ever Forbes Australia editor-in-chief, Sarah O’Carroll. And what could be a more fitting way to honour the occasion than the inaugural Forbes Australia Women’s Summit?

1700 attendees plus 30 inspirational speakers were united at the ICC Sydney by one ubiquitous theme of female empowerment: “The Power of Now”.

Hosted by global head of entertainment at TikTok, Felicity McVay, the bill boasted some major names in the industry, including Melanie Silva (MD and VP of Google AUNZ), Christine Holgate (group CEO of Team Global Express) and, of course, notable headliner Miranda Kerr (founder and CEO of KORA Organics).

But in a line-up of formidable “female leaders and barrier-breakers,” as McKay termed it, the heroic legacy of the first speaker stood out as one that paved the way for the legion of “advocates and agitators” that were to follow. That is; Wendy McCarthy.

Wendy McCarthy AO has been a champion of change for women across public, private and community sectors since 1968.

“For every significant reform of policy affecting Australian women over the past 50 years, you will probably find Wendy McCarthy among the advocates and agitators,” said O’Carroll as she welcomed McCarthy to the stage for their “Power of Purpose” fireside chat.

Wendy McCarthy speaks to B&T at the Forbes Australia Women’s Summit 2023

When asked what the day’s theme “The Power of Now” means to her, McCarthy explained to B&T how the urgent and global implications of acting “now” for women’s advocacy is something that gets her out of bed every morning.

“I wake up every day and think about what needs to be done,” said McCarthy. “And I think a lot needs to be done in the way we behave in parliament, and the way we behave in public spaces.”

McCarthy warned the audience that changing our behaviour means little if we don’t change the systems we operate in, a subject that was echoed throughout the summit. 

In the “Power of Responsibility” session that followed, Dr. Catriona Wallace (founder or the Responsible Metaverse Alliance) poked fun at the absurdity of the macho military jargon which has been adopted by the corporate world, think “Chief” and “2IC”, and how it innately places us in a masculine-oriented framework. 

Similarly, McVay, amongst others, shed light on the male-centric algorithmic biases that are coded into the media platforms we engage with, and learn from, every day, as she introduced the audience to the Correct the Internet movement.

Correct The Internet project, correcting male-biased search results

“We’re the most educated women in the world, but we’re not the most participatory in leadership” McCarthy explained as she encouraged the women in the room to “stand up for something bigger than yourself.” 

Except, what happens when our efforts of reformation in the office is met with resistance? Well, you can take it from the original change influencer herself, “if people say this can’t be done, always ask ‘why?’. Most of the time there’s no real answer”.

“You know, today is the day I’m going to spend time thinking about what I’m going to say, and that is, ‘The Power of Now,’” McCarthy continued during her discussion with B&T about “now-ness”. 

“And then tomorrow, I might spend a whole day thinking about how Australia can internationally start lending support to American women. Because they’re in a shocking place at the moment.”

It is disappointing how little outrage there’s been.

“What’s most disappointing is it’s the things we fought really hard to get,” responded McCarthy, whose fight for women’s health rights continues today, most recently in her leadership of the successful NSW Pro-Choice Alliance campaign in 2019.

“But, you know, with the abortion campaign in 2019, we (the campaign group) all worked together in the 70s. We never stopped checking out how things are going. We were watching Trump, and we could see it coming. 

“We started to think about what happens here on the grounds of what happens in America tends to do so here five years later, and we thought, we have to be prepared. And so we reconvened a group that was last active in about the 80s.”

But is this regression into more conservative attitudes a reaction to – 

“– Oh, I don’t think so. No. I think that’s just a cop-out.

“I think you just have to keep promoting that idea that abortions are now a health matter. It’s not a Christian matter. That’s massive.”

The power of now.

“The power of now. Just keep going, then when you’re 81 you ‘JUST. KEEP. GOING.’ from the second you get out of bed every day.”

That feels relatable at 27, as well.

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