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Lean In Melbourne kicked off 2020 with ‘Women In The Public Eye’, an event that focused on catching a glimpse in the lives of women in media, politics and entertainment.  Our speakers included Samantha Ratnam (Parliamentary leader of the Victorian Greens), Tara Rajakumar (Dancer and Artistic Director, Order of Australia) and Mary Gearin (ABC News Presenter and Senior Reporter) and the panel was facilitated by our very own Sonali Shah (Founder, Lean In Melbourne). We spoke about the importance of choosing to be vulnerable, the need to develop a thick skin,  and ways to handle criticism.

With over 100 attendees, it was an evening full of wisdom and insight.

The evening kicked off with Samantha Ratnam talking about her foray into politics. She spoke about her time in Sri Lanka and how watching society crumble at the hands of incompetent politicians ignited a passion for politics. She spoke extensively about how life as an immigrant, moving three continents and five schools shaped her and ultimately propelled her into the world of politics. According to Samantha, “My involvement with social work made me political.’’ 

Tara Rajakumar spoke about her vast experience spanning seven decades in the field of performing arts. She too spoke about her experience as an immigrant. Her struggles were much different as she moved countries to build a life with her partner. She said,  “I always tried to represent the culture I was born in. Moving countries helped me to straddle cultures and become adept at communicating at different levels, with different people”

Mary Gearin credited her interest in pursuing a career in journalism to her feminist upbringing. “My feminism was born out of me reacting against the close-mindedness of my family and society in general. I grew up with role models who were fiesty women and then that feistiness along with a love for telling other people’s stories, was what led me to journalism.”

The panel discussion progressed to address ways to handle criticism from the media and the public.  Samantha was of the opinion that criticism in politics can be especially harsh. “In politics, you don’t defend, you counter-attack. It makes people more risk-averse. Leaders are constantly trying to moderate their behaviour when leadership should be about connection. We must create spaces for people and our leaders to make mistakes”

Similarly, Mary advised, “The answer is not to be quiet. Anyone can make a mistake and we must be willing to forgive them”

Interestingly, Tara said, “An entertainer gets to criticise the society and be criticised. Our job is to find ills in society and create a performance. Stronger the performance, greater the impact. One should aim to communicate through stories”

Some of the other tips from the speakers on how to handle criticism were: 

  1. Be there. Be present.
  2. Don’t lose your cool. Find out more about the criticism and try to not take it personally even when it may sometimes seem like it is personal.
  3. Keep bringing more women along as you move up the ladder until it is not revolutionary to do so.
  4. Resilience is like a muscle, if you’re not born with it, you can build it. Just keep turning up and keep getting back up as you fall.
  5. Build a strong peer support group

The discussion closed with all the speakers answering a question from the audience that was “How do you protect your energy?” Each speaker left us with an interesting takeaway 

Samantha said,  “ Your energy levels are finite. Look at your calendar and create a bit more space for yourself. Find a passion outside of your work that fuels you.”

Tara advised, “Performers are vulnerable. Place a limit on how much of yourself you give to other people.”

Mary ended by saying, “Invest in meaningful interactions. Make boundaries, prioritise and aim for a work/life harmony”

 A heartfelt thank you to Nithya Gopua and the team from Vic Health for the amazing venue and Aron for the excellent photography and videography. And lastly, a big thank you to everyone who attends our events and continues to show their support. We look forward to seeing you all at our upcoming events in 2020.

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