Australian Embassy

Executive Director of University of Sydney Centre in China (Suzhou) Cathryn Hlavka's speech at the 2018 International Women's Day Brunch

Executive Director of University of Sydney Centre in China (Suzhou) Cathryn Hlavka's speech at the 2018 International Women's Day Brunch

Four Seasons Hotel Beijing 

(3 March 2018)


Thank you very much Maree.

Ambassador Jan Adams, Ms Christine Holgate, AustCham Foundation Members, Distinguished Guests from China and Australia and this fantastic global network of women who are here today to celebrate International Women’s Day 2018. And I acknowledge and welcome the men across the room and thank you for your support.

I am honoured to be invited to speak today as a representative of AustCham Beijing and take this opportunity to acknowledge the Australian Government’s commitment in making IWD an important occasion to be celebrated through its embassies across the world.

I know this, as 30 years ago on this very day, I had to brave up and perform a scene from a classic Beijing Opera in front of a very large audience of women organised by the Shanghai Branch of the All China Women’s Federation. Foreign students were very limited back then so I guess I was an easy target – I don’t think anyone checked to see if I was competent but I was studying Chinese theatre so there was no escape – we need a representative from Australia they cried.

I was on an Australia-China Council Work Experience Scholarship (internships these days) at the Australian Consulate-General in Shanghai, working on cultural and educational exchanges while also studying at the Shanghai Conservatorium of Music.   This experience of IWD, all dressed up as Wu Dan Warrior – was a genuine confidence builder– the audience of women encouraging of my efforts, urging me to continue, accepting of my mistakes – and there were many – and I will leave it to your imagination – headdress, packs of Swords etc. 

But the lesson I took away from this experience, was how important it is to have people and organisations to help us, as women,  build our confidence, to mentor us to know how best to tackle challenges, to be not afraid of making mistakes and importantly not being afraid to ask for help, and to be empowered to go for what you want to achieve.

AustCham is one such organisation that is here to support women. It has long championed the importance of women in the Australia-China community. Since 2013, with the support of the Australian Embassy, we have proudly hosted the Beijing Mentor Walks - an opportunity to bring together established women leaders and emerging women leaders who are trail blazers in their respective fields to connect, learn, mentor and share experiences.

In addition to this, AustCham is also apart of The Gender8 or G8 Career Women’s Forward movement:  a series which showcases diverse, professional women in our community and is a joint initiative of the 8 Chambers of Commerce here in Beijing.

I would like to acknowledge the important role Tracy Colgan has played in Austcham and during her term as Chair to realise these programs.

What these examples provide is a structure for you to continue to be involved – to continue to build your professional networks and together be part of a dynamic that is supporting women and girls – whether through education initiatives, professional development and mentor programs, or events and activities.  Building networks is key to finding support, and I encourage you to use this important day to expand your horizons and all possibilities, and connect with the wealth of experience of over 200 women in the room.

Today you will hear from two distinguished women who have reached the pinnacle in their careers in the corporate and the public sectors. 

Ambassador Jan Adams has a track record of challenging roles in her career and as the host of today’s Brunch will share with us insights into leadership success.

Christine Holgate, when at  the helm of Blackmores, took the company from a small health shop line (which is how I first remember) to a globally recognised brand.  Her role now as Chief Executive of Australia Post, will no doubt have challenges, even for a seasoned senior executive, and I am sure we will all learn something from the experiences she will share with us today.

Having women represented equally across all organisational levels of society brings the influence needed to advance change and transform society.  True innovation cannot be achieved until all in a community participate.  Unfortunately across the globe women are still underrepresented in leadership, decision-making and policy development roles in both the corporate and public sectors, as well as in our education and research institutions.  But this is slowly changing - Whether it be in business, politics, academia, or industry, we as women, must strive to take all the opportunities that present, and aim high to reach your full potential.

On behalf of AustCham, I wish each of you a very Happy International Women’s Day.  Thank you.