Why we need more female nominees

My SMH op-ed today is on the importance of increasing the share of honours given to women.
Why we need more female nominees, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 June 2013

One of the great privileges of being a parliamentarian is that you get to meet so many remarkable people. In the past fortnight, I’ve chatted with an Indigenous elder who’s passionate about early childhood education, and a community leader who’s working to boost volunteering rates. I’ve talked with a young entrepreneur building her start-up, and a painter who is creating stunningly beautiful work. In a job like this, it’s impossible not to be an optimist about Australia’s future.

This is why the biannual Order of Australia awards – granted on Australia Day and on the Queen’s Birthday – provides a welcomed opportunity to officially recognise some of the achievements and services we see from extraordinary Australians. The awards are overseen by the Governor-General, and, as part of a nineteen member Council for the Order of Australia, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister represents the Australian Government in the recommendation process.

It was Gough Whitlam who established the Order of Australia in 1975, replacing the imperial honours system. Since then, over 28,000 people have received the awards that, as Governor-General Quentin Bryce said, aim to ‘elevate the concept of giving to others. They heighten our respect for one another, and they encourage Australians to think about the responsibilities of citizenship in our democracy’.

This year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List sees 584 recipients receive awards in the general division of the Order of Australia, in recognition of a diverse range of contributions and services to people in Australia and internationally. Another 199 persons have received awards for their meritorious or military service.

Their achievements are inspiring, and it is heartening to see the Australian tradition of generosity and high achievement continue.

In the latest batch of awards, around 40 percent have been awarded to women, up from an average of 30 percent in the period since 1975.

It is particularly pleasing that author, educator and business leader Jill Ker Conway has been recognised for her 44 years of outstanding achievement and community contribution by appointment as a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), our greatest civic honour. Professor Conway has taken on key leadership roles in the United States in fields as diverse as education, science, business and the arts.

In this latest round, female nominees had a slightly higher chance of receiving an award than male nominees. That suggests that the task for all of us in the future is to make sure we nominate as many talented women as men. As a community, we sometimes overlook work in traditionally feminised fields (such as volunteering and the arts) in favour of traditionally male fields (such as leading large organisations).

So here’s my challenge: if you know people who are doing great work in your community, why not nominate them for an award? And if you’re thinking of nominating a talented woman, you can do so in the knowledge that on the current figures, she’s a better-than-average chance of success.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. To nominate someone for an Australian honour, go to http://www.itsanhonour.gov.au/

On the same theme, this February 2013 piece by Anne Summers AO is well worth reading.

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