Interesting People: Jane Alver (On Women’s Development, Leadership and Gender Diversity)

I’ve known Jane Alver since we were very small. Back then, we marched the neighbourhood as Brownies on Chalk and Cheese hikes. These days, Jane is a face to watch out for in Australian public life. Thoughtful, funny and unafraid  of karaoke, today Jane talks to me about gender diversity in the workplace, studying at Oxford and the pride she felt when her four year old daughter led a ‘Reclaim The Night’ march.  Also, her approach to playing Barbies (yes, do it, but make Barbie a molecular geneticist. Genius! ) 

Here’s Jane.

You’re currently the President of the YWCA in Canberra. You have a long history of working in women’s development, in gender diversity and in developing leadership. What is the importance of increasing the numbers of women in decision making?

A group of men and a group of women board directors was given a set of circumstances. They were asked to assess the risk and decide whether the project described should be continued or abandoned. The women said abandon, the men said press on. It was then revealed that the set of facts was the Challenger disaster. This is just one study that illustrates the impact of having diversity in decision making, to have just one person ask the question: why have we always done things this way? What if we acted differently?

It is my opinion, the focus of my thesis, and increasingly the finding of business studies, bottom line analysis, and post corporate collapse forensics that diversity in all its forms improves decision making and that boards should reflect the community that then are representing or advocating on behalf of.

Can you tell us a little bit about studying at Oxford? How was it being a young Australian woman there?

Oxford was a wonderful experience. Being surrounded by people who were excited about what they were learning, from all over the world. It seemed a long way from home to be dressed in an academic gown, sipping port at high table, sitting in a 13th century dining hall, debating In pubs where Tolkien and Wilde and CS Lewis had been. It was really evident that to be there was to be part of a long tradition. A real privilege.

I have a seven year old, and I have just begun, haltingly,  to talk to her about what sexism is and where it exists in our society. You have a daughter too. How do you talk to her about feminism? What are your hopes for her?

I have consciously tried giving gender neutral toys, and Batman cakes rather than fairy cakes. We discuss that there are no such things as girl colours and boy colours, and that boys can wear pink if they chose and have long hair if they chose and girls can build bridges and be fire fighters. I resisted Barbies, but once she was given one we role played Barbie coming home to the Barbie house after a tiring day deciphering recombinant DNA!  I am firm believer that there is no need for pink marketed Friends Lego as a way for girls into Lego. There is already Lego for girls. It’s called Lego.

I took her to her first Reclaim the Night march this year. She wowed me with her confidence in grabbing the hand of the six year old she just met, and a whistle and leading out front. We didn’t go into the reasons for the march but my hopes are that she felt the power of the community behind her. I just want her to believe that anything is possible, to know where she feels safe, and to find her own ‘happy’ or spark, rather than trying to fit a mould.

Thanks Jane!

Keep fighting the good fight.

Previous Interesting People posts:
Calamity Jane, Alaskan homesteader
Carly Findlay, appearance activist
Jo Thornely, internet celebrity
Lexi Campbell-Kentmann, blogging superstar
Gerri, Claire and Carmen, mums of nine kids