Mele-Ane Havea on Carol Schwartz
For decades, Carol Schwartz has been a champion of women’s interests in the corporate world. She’s fought tirelessly to create gender equality wherever she’s worked and has empowered many women to make confident business and investment decisions and blaze their own trails as leaders in their fields. She’s worked in areas ranging from property development to education and the environment, and is currently chair of the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia, which she founded to improve the representation of women in leadership roles, and Our Community, which provides tools and advice for people to build stronger communities.
As a leader, Carol is remarkable. As a female leader, she is rare. Female CEOs make up a mere four percent of listed companies in Australia, and out of the 19 cabinet members in the Australian government, only two are women (note at the time of this conversation it was one—a figure Carol refers to). Many of us have grown used to seeing such a huge absence of women in positions of power. It’s been normalised. But from the start of her career, Carol knew it didn’t need to be this way. She’s been determined to ensure that we don’t get complacent about this, and that the status quo is challenged. She calls out inequality when she sees it.
It’s this part of Carol’s work that most inspires me—the firm manner with which she raises her hand when she sees an injustice. I have often found it difficult to stay calm and clear-headed when confronted with prejudice. Whether it’s happening to me or to a friend, I get tongue-tied trying to respond in an effective way. I have often watched Carol in awe, thinking, Where does she find the strength? Where does she find the words?
It’s not like Carol is immune to the struggle—she feels it too, I realise as I sit opposite her at the boardroom table of her office. It wasn’t always easy for her to be in male-dominated settings. But she has worked hard, unbelievably hard, and stayed true to her beliefs. Carol is surprisingly matter-of-fact and practical about her success and her advocacy. And I admire that too. For her, it seems, this is just something that needs to be done. And each day, she does her best to do it.