Interview with Tracey Spicer.
Tracey Spicer is an iconoclast. The television, radio, newspaper and online journalist is now a highly sought-after writer, speaker and trainer.
Renowned for the courage of her convictions, passion for social justice, and commitment to equality, she also has a wicked sense of humour.
During her 30-year career, Tracey has reported for, and anchored, national news, current affairs and lifestyle programs for ABC TV, Network Ten, Channel 9 and Sky News.
She talks to Melanie Sheppard about the highs, the lows, the lessons and the work that is still yet to be done.
1. You have a teenage son and a daughter not far off reaching her teenage years. What kind of conversations do you have with them in these early years about the importance of equality and respect between the genders?
We started talking to them about gender equality when they were around 5 and 6. It’s never too early! In fact, when they were babies and toddlers we allowed them to play with whatever toys they chose, without insisting upon dolls for girls of trucks for boys. They became very outspoken around the ages of 9 and 10, calling out instances of everyday sexism in the playground and media. But in the past year, our teenage son is pushing our buttons by playing devil’s advocate and debating feminism over the dinner table every night. My friends tell me it’s a phase, which will pass...! My advice is to sit with your children as they consume media and break down obvious instances of sexism and inequality.
2. This year you launched NOW, a not-for-profit aimed at supporting victims of sexual assault in the work place regardless of the gender. Tell us a little more about that.
NOW will be the first port of call for anyone experiencing sexual harassment in the Australian workplace. We’re building our triage service at the moment, hiring two people with expertise in the law and counselling. They will bear witness to each caller’s story before connecting them with the best assistance depending on their financial means, geographic location and needs. Some women simply want to share their experiences, while others want to report it to the police. In recent months, we’ve been meeting with lawyers, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, women’s health centres and community legal centres, to ensure we’re not overlapping with existing services.
3. What do you think are some of the greatest barriers facing women in the work place?
Aside from sexual harassment - which has forced generations of women out of male-dominated industries - the gender pay gap, pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and the lack of women in leadership are the big issues at the moment. These combine to create the ‘perfect storm’ which leads to women retiring with little more than half the superannuation of men. I have several older friends who are ‘couch surfing’ at the moment after working in low paid roles all of their lives, then being abandoned by their male partners. Too often, they are left with nothing.
4. What industries do you believe are leading the charge to gender equality and which ones do you believe still need a lot of work.
Generally, the public sector has better policies on discrimination than the private sphere, however I have seen excellent initiatives recently in banking. When finance companies take gender equality seriously others follow because it’s good for the bottom line. PwC is a standout in this space because of the fine work of Megan Brownlow. The industries which are lagging include motoring, IT and - yes - the media. I emceed a car dealers’ conference recently, where there were around 10 women and 1000 men.
5. What is the best piece of advice you ever received and by whom?
That’s a tough one! I’ve received a lot of guidance from my mum Marcia, the Patron of Women in Media Caroline Jones AO, and my other unofficial mentor Marina Go. But one of the best bits of advice comes from my husband. He’s very good at reading the politics of a situation, whether it’s conflict in the office or personal relationships. His advice is to always pick your battles. I tend to want to fight everything, all at once! He’s taught me to take a deep breath and plan attacks strategically. Patience is a gift.
6. Your TedX talk in 2014 has received almost 5 million views to date. Why do you think the notion of stripping bare and presenting ourselves in our authentic form liberates so many women from all ages and cultures?
Yes, it really seemed to act as a lightning rod! I think women everywhere are sick of being judged by their appearance alone. A woman in India wrote to me to say that after being married at the age of 12, the only power she has in her remote village is to braid her hair, paint her skin using henna, and wear colourful saris. I think that says it all: our beauty is our currency in society. Even though we are now allowed in the workplace, some women - especially in low paid industries like hospitality and retail - still spend around a third of their income to appear ‘customer ready’, when you take into account make-up and blow-drys. These are generally costs that are not borne by men.
7. You have spoken openly about your mother’s painful death, seven months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and your support of legalized euthanasia. Can you see a time in the near future where this will eventually become legalized in Australia?
Andrew Denton has done extraordinary work in this area, leading to a change in the legislation in Victoria. Because of this precedent, I am optimistic that we will see changes in other states, as well. However, religious groups are well-funded and highly motivated to protest against any further attempts, so it will be a long road. I will continue to campaign for Voluntary Assisted Dying until laws treating terminally ill people with compassion are brought in right across the nation.
8. In your book The Good Girl Stripped Bare you touch on a time when you were controlled by the patriarchy in a male dominated industry – media. If you could go back to that time, what advice would you give that ambitious young woman?
I would tell her to stop being such a good girl! Stand up, speak out and claim your power. It took me far too long to shake off those shackles, and start to tear down the wallpaper of misogyny. When you’re surrounded by it for so long, you think this is the price you must pay for a place in the workforce. Unless we join together and each make small changes, it will be the same for the next generation. And we cannot allow that to happen.