A Global Perspective

Former prime minister of Australia Julia Gillard champions her priorities on the world stage.

Former prime minister of Australia Julia Gillard has spoken at two Simmons Leadership Conferences—the 2017 event in Geneva, Switzerland, and this spring in Boston. She used her afternoon keynote address in Boston, “Women in Professional and Public Life: Challenge, Adversity, and Triumph,” to explore topics ranging from education to gender discrimination and the challenge of unconscious bias. 

She punctuated her remarks with insights gleaned from her personal life and political career, including the hostility directed at her as Australia’s first woman prime minister (2010-2013). Gillard also explained why she made access to quality education the top priority of her government’s economic development agenda, and discussed how she’s gone global with her advocacy since leaving office.

“Over all I’m a tremendous optimist. That doesn’t mean advancement and progress is this nice curve ever upwards,” said Julia Gillard, former prime minister of Australia.

After delivering her remarks, Gillard sat down with Simmons Magazine and offered additional insights on the state of education, gender equality, and unconscious bias. Does she see signs of progress? What hurdles remain? 

“Over all I’m a tremendous optimist. That doesn’t mean advancement and progress is this nice curve ever upwards. There are obviously some peaks and troughs,” said Gillard.

On Education 

“If I look at the global education agenda, huge progress has been made in getting more children into primary school. Now, in the era of sustainable development goals, we’ve lifted our sights to secondary school. I go to countries where, even under incredibly difficult circumstances, there’s a real determination to bring change. Through the Campaign for Female Education, I meet individual African women and girls whose lives have been changed, and that model has huge potential for ever-increasing scale. And through the Brookings Institution and the Center for Universal Education, I get a sense of where the policy innovations are around the world. There’s always little beacons of progress.”

On Gender Equality 

“I certainly believe there’s more awareness and goodwill now than there has been at any other time. In many ways, for societies like the U.S. and Australia, the block now isn’t the absence of will, it’s the evidence-based strategies to make sure we’re getting the biggest impact for every change maneuver. None of that is to wish away the dimensions of the task—it’s big. When the World Economic Forum can give us timelines like 202 years to close the economic empowerment gap, we’ve really got to be doubling down and moving a lot faster.”

On Unconscious Bias 

“I think the younger generation is not being acculturated exactly the same as earlier generations, but we would make an error to think they are growing up in an environment free of gender stereotypes. It’s not going to be automatic progress. We’ll still need strategies for change to defeat those unconscious-bias stereotypes. We’ll still need strategies for change about how work and family life and flexibility should happen.”