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Vote of confidence

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Tanya Plibersek is not one to talk herself up unnecessarily. As a politician who relies on the public vote to keep her job, however, she has learned since entering politics in her late 20s to sell her skills.

A veteran of a number of election campaigns, the new Minister for Housing and the Status of Women admits the process can be confronting: sitting down and convincing people, often strangers, that she is the best person for the job.

“And you have to do that 500 times,” says Ms Plibersek, the Federal Member for Sydney.

She says self-belief and a strong commitment to issues about which she is passionate have helped.

“If you’re able to focus on what you can do and achieve – for the people you represent – then it’s easier to deal with the difficulties.”

 A love of politics

The Plibersek story is a compelling one. The daughter of Slovenian parents who emigrated to Australia in the ’50s, she grew up in the southern suburbs of Sydney as the youngest of three children.

Politics and gender issues have long been in her blood. She has a Master of Politics and Public Policy from Macquarie University and worked for the NSW Ministry for the Status and Advancement of Women on domestic violence policy and research before later joining the staff of Senator Bruce Childs.

It was her election as the Member for Sydney in 1998 that enabled Plibersek to forge her own way in politics. And with the ascension of the Rudd Government and her appointment as a minister, she has a strong political voice.

Ms Plibersek clearly she has a soft spot for women’s issues. She says that modern women are doing better than their grandmothers because they have choices.

“[But] the pace of change is too slow for my liking and in some ways the choices we now have put an enormous amount of pressure on people as well.

“In all our discussions about work and family balance we have to think about children and how the next generation develops and what impact it has on children who have constantly stressed parents who work irregular hours and who can’t commit to taking them to soccer because they never know when they’re going to be home.”

Now in a position of genuine power to effect change, she will be part of the solution for women’s issues.

Family first

Political passions aside, family is important to Ms Plibersek and her husband Michael, who have a daughter, Anna, and a son, Joe.

In her moments away from parliament and the electorate, she is fond of bushwalking and reading 18th and 19th century English and French novels and renaissance history. The history books are particularly useful, she says, to take “a step back to think about how society works and to think about how past ages have dealt with the problems of their time”.

Like most women, time management is an issue. Ms Plibersek says balancing immediate issues against long-term goals is a juggling act.

“It just takes some self discipline to carve out the time to sit quietly and work an issue through, to learn about an issue and make a decision about it.”

Ms Plibersek is eager to see more women become empowered through business and social success.

There is little doubt, she says, that within some large organisations men do not always value the way women work. She calls for a deeper understanding of the different forms of doing business.

“Being able to actually recognise the strengths of someone else’s approach when it’s different to your own approach is a great quality in a manager. And the fact that historically a lot of managers have been men means that they have seen people younger than them as carbon copies – men who reminded them of themselves as young men and they get promoted in their images. A lot of businesses miss out on really good quality people because they don’t have the imagination to value [staff] properly.”

Toughening up

The rough and tumble of politics has taught Ms Plibersek to stand up for herself and not fear confrontation.

“Some conflict is necessary – if you’re in a negotiation you don’t give away your position because you want to avoid conflict but anticipating how someone’s going to respond to a position and thinking about giving away what they want without giving them what you need – that’s a terrific quality and just one example of a quality that’s overlooked.”

Regardless of circumstance, Ms Plibersek advises politicians, businesswomen and people generally to be true to themselves.

“The most important thing in life is to be authentic and true to your own views, beliefs and personality and if you’re a person who likes to put people at their ease in a negotiation you shouldn’t pretend not to be because there’s pressure on you to be more hard lined – it just doesn’t work and people pick you as phoney.”

Work on your business, not in it. To learn how, book a complimentary business assessment today with a Switzer Business Coach.

Important information: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

Published on: Monday, June 29, 2009

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