Wednesday 16 Nov
You may know her as one of Australia’s best-loved TV journalists. Or as one of Australia’s leading mental health advocates. Either way, there’s no doubting Jessica Rowe’s tireless work ethic and passion for social justice. She is a patron for the Mental Health Council of Australia, Mum4Mum; an ambassador for Beyondblue; an ambassador for Welcome To Australia (an organisation assisting refugee families in Australia) and Camp Kookaburra and…the list goes on! In her recent memoir, Is this my beautiful life?Rowe wrote with disarming honesty about her own mental health journey, helping others to do the same. As someone who has been in the media for over 20 years, she’s seen the newsroom transform from a boys club to what it is today. We asked Jessica about this and her thoughts on what it will take to make gender bias just fade away.
We are honoured to have Jessica on board with #Breakthrough2016. In the lead up to these very exciting times, we had a chat to Jessica about gender equality and women in media.
What do you think are the key challenges for women working in the media today?
Jessica Rowe (JR): Women in the media face all sorts of challenges. There are those universal challenges that all working women face – being paid the same amount of money as men, given positions of power, and remaining relevant even though you take time out of the paid workforce to have and care for children. I was blessed that my first boss was a compassionate and nurturing man. When I was a junior reporter he took the time to build my skills, teach me and gave me the confidence to hang in there. If I didn’t have his support and wise counsel I wouldn’t have lasted in the media.
You’ve worked as a journalist and reporter at major networks for twenty years. Is the boys club culture of major networks changing? Have you seen improvements for women working in the media?
JR: Television can still be a blokey environment. But the culture within news organisations has changed and is continuing to change – when I first began reading the news over 20 years ago I wasn’t “permitted” to read the main news story or do interviews. The reason I was given at the time, “because you’re a woman!” That attitude has changed and now that I’m older and more bolshie I won’t take crap from anyone. And now that I have found my voice I have no problems speaking out to support others who I see being treated unfairly.
As a woman in the media who has faced high-profile discrimination from network management, what advice do you have for women facing discrimination within their own workplaces, especially from senior figures?
JR: Surprisingly I find this a difficult question to answer as it depends on what job you’re doing, what support you have around you and what stage you are at in your life. Are you just starting out in your career? Do you have a mortgage to pay, children to support, elderly parents to care for? When I was a young woman I didn’t have the courage to call out sexist behaviour as I knew if I did I would be labelled a trouble maker and I would lose my job. Then when I was in the midst of an ugly period in my professional life all I could do at the time was continue to be professional and keep turning up for work. It was important not to give my bosses any excuse to sack me. What kept me going through that time was the incredible support and solidarity I got from good men and women, some who I knew, others who were complete strangers, but they contacted me and told me to hang in there. And I have learnt that the best revenge is living well – and by well – what I mean is by being happy.
Lastly, what makes you believe that we will break through gender bias in the media?
JR: Good men and women speaking up!
Join Jessica Rowe in the fight for gender equality and be part of this memorable event.
Happening over 25 + 26 Nov at the Melbourne Town Hall, Breakthrough features 100+ speakers and performers (such as Tara Moss, Leigh Sales, Judith Lucy and more!) and real gender equality action. Tickets on sale now.