Breakfast with Ita: the original Business Chick

A few days ago I had the good fortune to attend a Business Chicks breakfast for which the guest speaker was Ita Buttrose, the doyenne of Australian magazine editing and publishing. Business Chicks, for those StyleRockers who don’t know, is a women-led group dedicated to connecting women in business. Not only do they have a nifty ‘business card’ networking system on their website for members, they write and produce a high quality magazine (sent to members every few months) and host regular events such as networking events and these breakfasts. Business Chicks members are working women, either in corporate world or running their own businesses, usually aged between 30-50 (simply guestimating here!) and interested in fostering connections with other like-minded women.

Having Ita as the guest speaker was clearly a popular choice – there were some 1000 women in the ballroom at the Westin hotel in Sydney! During Ita’s introduction, we learnt a couple of key facts about her: that a) she’s been in publishing for some 50 years and b) she likes to think of herself as 70 years young! Ita then took to the stage, looking very chic and soignee in a black cutaway collar jacket, with a lovely white floral accessory. She began by describing the news publishing world when she joined it, aged 15. Let’s not forget this was (clearly) in the time before gender equality in the workplace. Back in those days, the men didn’t have any problem with her joining their ranks. No problem, that is, until she was taking their jobs. Then she was hissed at, had doors slammed in her face – acts of aggression that, as a modern-day career woman, you simply can’t imagine. She was catcalled, laughed at – she described how “you had to pretend you didnt hear – but of course you did. You had to pretend you didn’t mind – but of course you did.” She believed such behaviour reflected a lack of respect for women – and that was one of the biggest challenges she faced. Equally, she didn’t see why she – or other women – should be denied career opportunities simply because of her gender.

Ita went on to be the youngest ever editor of The Australian Women’s Weekly, for which she saw her key objective as giving women a voice. In the pursuit of doing so, she ran a survey inviting AWW writers to share their stories, so that the magazine could then set about providing help and guidance with how to deal with these issues. And awful stories they were too: of rape, incest, domestic violence. Most incredibly, the magazine received some 30,000 surveys, with another 10,000 women writing in separately. In enabling women to tell their stories and know that they were not alone, she clearly tapped into the zeitgeist.

Which she continues to do to this day. She highlighted to us the disproportionate lack of women on boards, and was very firm that this position must change. “What is the point in drawing from only 49% of the population when we could have the best of 100% of the population?” she asked. Personally, I think she should join forces with Elizabeth Broderick, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, whose personal mission it is to increase the number of women in boards.

So…you may be asking, what does all this have to do with jewellery? Well, Ita was the original trailblazer. She showed it was possible to break into a male-dominated world, which is what I’m trying to do with the mostly-male technology industry. She revolutionised the publishing world – again, a parallel with StyleRocks in that we’re trying to change the way people design and purchase jewellery. She demonstrated that it was possible to have a family and career – something I’m also trying to achieve! In short, Ita’s influence on me and StyleRocks may not have been a direct one – I’ve not met her personally – but without her leading the way for me and my generation, the question remains: would StyleRocks even be here?

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