Jamila Rizvi on leadership, sexism and pay rises

Jamila Rizvi

Jamila Rizvi is a writer, presenter and commentator. She writes a weekly political column for News Limited and appears regularly as a commentator on Channel 10, Channel 9 and the ABC. Her first book, Not Just Lucky, a career manifesto for millennial women, was published in 2017. Jamila will be speaking at the Women’s Leadership Symposium in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Darwin so we caught up with her to discuss her thoughts on leadership, sexism and all things gender equality.

Can you tell us about your leadership journey?

I started working quite young. While at university, I was involved in student politics and was President of the Student Union for a year. After that year, I was very eager to stay in full time work and I ended up getting a job in Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s office. Later on, I was Deputy Chief of Staff to Minister Kate Ellis where I gained experience in managing the strategic goals of a minister’s office. Then I went into the media and was Editor-in-Chief of Mamamia during a period of high growth for the publication. I saw commonalities in being a good leader across industries and from my time in politics I had gained a background in being a good leader, a good team leader and a good manager.

What is the most important thing that you have learned in your career?

I learned to realise that I was not always right. When we are new to leadership roles, we often think we need to be the one with all the ideas and all the solutions. I came to learn that my way was not always the best way and that I need to listen to my team.

What key principle has been most fundamental to your success?

Recognising the importance of stability and making people feel safe. It is essential for anyone working in an organisation, and really important that leaders recognise this. Certainty and predictability are what allows us to take risks.

Having worked in politics and media have you got anything to say about what it is like for women in these fields?

I speak about politics and the media in my book Not Just Lucky, but sexism exists across all industries and is a real challenge for Australia. Most industries are gender unequal in terms of workforce composition (either mostly male or mostly female) but regardless of whether there are more men or more women overall, the positions of power are nearly always held by men. A good example of this is education in schools, where most people in the sector are female but principals are usually male.

Your book focuses on how Australian women are so used to being overlooked and undervalued in the workplace that when they actually do make it, they are inclined to think that it is down to luck. Can you talk more about this?

The thesis that I put forward in the book is that women are often inclined to say “I was just lucky” when they experience success. This is down to society, both men and women, having a problem with successful women and this is something that our culture as a whole needs to work to overcome.

Can you tell us about the structural disadvantage that causes problems for women in the workplace?

The way workplaces are set up disadvantages women. The current system was built by men for men over a hundred years ago when it was not even really considered that women would enter workplaces in the future. This system values the way men are socialised over the way women are socialised. There is a focus on competition over collaboration and merit goes out the window.

Can you tell us about an example of gender discrimination that you have faced yourself in your career? 

In my book, I talk about my experiences of this working in politics. For instance, there were marked differences in the tasks female assistants and male assistants were given. The female assistants were asked to do things like picking up dry cleaning and doing the prime minister’s makeup but the male assistants were not. Even so, I know that my experiences are not as bad as those of some others. Some of the stories I have heard from other women are of awful discrimination and bias. Not to mention stories of sexual harassment. The recent allegations involving men like Harvey Weinstein and Don Burke show that sexual harassment is not just down to a few culprits or only an isolated problem. It is a problem throughout our entire society. 

What advice would you like to impart to our readers?

My book has very practical advice about how to operate more effectively, one of which is the nine steps to asking for a pay rise. The one step I think is most important is focusing on why you deserve a raise rather than why you need one. Women have a tendency to justify why they need a pay rise. For example, talking about the cost of living or wanting to buy a house. Yet it is more effective when negotiating with employers to focus on why you deserve a pay rise. For example, talking about how you have increased productivity since taking on the role and the value this has brought to the organisation and that is why your salary should be raised. 

Jamila Rizvi is a writer, presenter and commentator. Jamila's first book, Not Just Lucky, a career manifesto for millennial women, was published by Penguin in 2017.

If you want to hear more from the inspirational Jamila Rizvi, along with an incredible line up of other speakers, she will be speaking at the Women’s Leadership Symposium in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Darwin. 

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