Over 100 women gathered at the Mandurah Offshore Fishing and Sailing club today to celebrate International Women's Day and the theme of the year, #breakthebias.
The celebrations, organised by Soroptomists International in collaboration with the City of Mandurah, saw guest speakers Dawesville MP Lisa Munday, Mandurah Cr Amber Kearns and Peel Community Legal chief executive Kathleen Johnson, share their stories. My Little Bookshop owner Kerry Ridley unfortunately could not attend the day.
Ms Munday shared her story of her own internal biases and other assumptions about her capabilities and what she could and couldn't do.
Constantly told by parents, friends, teachers and family that she wasn't good enough, she was a tom boy, she had a 'one-track mind', it was these 'albatrosses' around her neck that eventually turned into her strengths.
Ms Munday described the various careers she'd throughout her life, from a manager in a taxi control room, to a paramedic, to a psychologist and now a member of parliament.
"Not bad for the kid who failed year 12 nearly 35 years before, and not bad for someone that was carrying all those albatrosses around her neck," she said.
Ms Kearns shared her story next, an inspiring recount of overcoming extreme adversity to become a successful woman with an incredible career.
Ms Kearns was only eight years old when she discovered her parents were addicted to heroin. At nine, she took on the role of mother and carer to her younger sister, and at 11, she would call her first ambulance for her parents, who had overdosed on heroin.
Despite the adversity she faced, Ms Kearns let nothing stop her in her tracks. At 13, she started her first job at Outlaws Mexican, where she moved up from kitchen hand to manager. Later, she would work her way up through Centrelink, eventually becoming a personal advisor helping Mandurah's most vulnerable.
Finally, Ms Kearns would become a Mandurah Councillor.
She described how, throughout her life and various roles, she had always seen blazers, the piece of clothing most typically worn by men in suits, as necessary for women to get a seat at the table. To her, they'd been a symbol of power and respect.
"Because the world would tell us as women, we need to wear a blazer to be invited to the table.
"We need to wear a blazer to feel respect from people that may look down at us as the drug addicts' daughter.
"That blazer to me symbolized the fraud I felt in stepping into a room that I worked so hard to step into.
"So today, I'm standing here without a blazer, and standing here to remind us all that as women, we all deserve a seat at the table.
"We are all worthy, regardless of where we came from or the mistakes we made along the way. We all have something to offer. And together, we can break the bias."
Finally, Ms Johnson spoke about her journey through life, as a mother at age 15, to now the chief executive of Peel Community Legal.
She started her career at her family's plumbing business as the accountant. When this proved financially unstable for her and her family, she took on a job at Arnott's, packing biscuits and taking tour groups around the factory.
She then moved to Target, where she worked her way up to HR management. Various twists and turns in her career provided her with experience and skills, though not the sheet of paper with the qualification to do what she eventually wanted, which was manage a non-profit organisation.
After obtaining the certificate she needed, she successfully became the chief executive of Peel Community Legal, a position which sees her interacting with and helping the community daily.
There was an incredible energy in the room, with women from all walks of life gathered together to share their stories and experiences, and learn from one another on what breaking the bias meant to them.
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